Both Mary and David’s key advice was to question and reject the win/lose framework of negotiation. Being a lawyer, Mary is often called in to mediate negotiations. She considers herself a persuader with the motto: “Be persistent, don’t leave until you get what you want”. As a ground rule, you don’t need to be adversaries. Approaching negotiation as an iterative process rather than a face-off allows room for a constructive path forward and ultimately a solution. Mary also advised to identify your goals up front so as to streamline the conversation. It is imperative to go into a negotiation knowing both what you want and what you are willing to give up.
Similarly, David identifies himself as a mediator rather than a negotiator. To him, negotiation means finding a way forward, like navigating a boat through a rocky passage. As a mediator, there will always be a mutually beneficial solution. This choice in language suggest a paradigm shift to me. Through a change in wording and mentality, a disagreement, settlement or conflict can go from a head to head stalemate to a hand in hand conversation.
In preparation for this session, we read a case study on the mythical town of Lopton. Located in an idyllic suburb outside of Cosmopolis, Lopton is known for its charm, comfort and beautiful meadow. Lopton Meadow is a 750-acre tract of undeveloped grass and woodland beloved to the community as a source of recreation, refuge and civic pride. The town is governed by the Lopton Town Advisory Committee (LTAC) aimed to represent the public interest. Green Leaf Development (GLD), a national developer, seeks to build a 50-acre office park in Lopton Meadow. The Save the Meadow Action Group (SMAG) is a self-appointed committee of affluent Lopton residents strongly opposed to the development of this office park.
Green Leaf Development adjourned our meeting by introducing themselves and pitching their project. Among the five students, each played the role of developer, architect, master planner, sustainability consultant and local resident. They presented their case by explaining highlighted project features according to discipline. These included a comprehensive report on existing infrastructure, sustainability interventions such as green roofs, living walls, passive solar design and rain gardens, a tiered phasing plan and a variety of industry job opportunities. The presentation was well prepared and articulated. Our guest teachers were especially impressed with the inclusion of a local resident to represent the interest of the town. It was also tactful to have each person contribute something different yet relevant to the presentation. Mary noted, however, that instead of providing a big picture answer to why they wanted to develop the meadow in the first place, they dove straight into the details of what the project would look like. In response to this, GLP spent the second round reiterating that they heard and acknowledged SMAG’s concern. While the tone of their argument was accommodating and sensitive, the overall delivery was weakened by only one person presenting.
I was part of the Save the Meadow Action Group. We prepared a list of top concerns including ecological impact, height of the development, safety regarding increased traffic density, loss of recreation space and local job security. During the first round, our presentation delivery was scattered and unplanned. Our feedback was to identify a central goal and in the event that our request was not met, come up with a list of demands in exchange for the development. Our revisited sticking points were: location choice, cultural relevancy, transparency, infrastructure and public safety. Our salient point questioned why GLP couldn’t build their office park in the crumbling downtown instead of the pristine meadow. Although we presented our case with an arrogant, not-in-my-back-yard collective voice, (in keeping with our highbrow character profiles), Mary loved this argument as it echoed a greater trend in development to revitalize and densify existing urban centers.
Between the two rounds of discussion, LTAC strongly favored GLP’s proposed development. They pointed out the immense benefits of 800+ desperately needed jobs, along with substantial profit increase through broadening Lopton’s tax base. The infrastructure question was the crux of their feedback. One board member asked why we couldn’t develop both the downtown and the meadow. Bill noted this as the most effective strategy in our whole interaction. By divesting from an either/or mindset, they left behind the unproductive stalemate and began to explore the grey area of compromise. A simple way to tap into this strategy is to ask both parties to come up with three mutually beneficial scenarios.
This exercise was highly informative. Through engaging in a life-like stakeholder negotiation, I was able to observe the process and pitfalls of drawing a line in the sand. SMAG began our brainstorming session staunchly opposed to the office park. Our long list of social, economic and environmental factors was our defense against our black and white argument. As the meeting progressed, this attitude got us nowhere. While we could continue to oppose it point blank, we had to face Mary’s question of whether or not our position was sustainable. This process reiterated Mary and Dave’s advice. It is important to always reassess the validity of our operating assumptions. My key takeaways for negotiation strategy are: listen, find shared goals, understand the other side, know your facts, admit fault and reach a common ground. These tools will no doubt prove useful and effective as I hone my skills as a mediator, persuader and negotiator.
2017 YCPI Courses begin January 19. Register here!