October 19, 2006

Genius vs Opportunity - How I pulled off a coup!

Yesterday we had our mid term exam on 'Influencing & Negotiation Skills'. It was a unique experience. We were given a case with predefined roles and we had to negotiate to reach a settlement. There were issues in the case which were integrative (where both the actors could see common ground) and distributive (win-lose types). Each issue had a payoff associated with it. Based on the options that the actors agreed upon, they got the respective points for that option. The first 45 minutes were devoted to understanding the case and designing the strategy for negotiation. The next 60 minutes were meant for actual negotiation role play. And in the last 45 minutes we had to detail the process we followed and estimate what the other party's score based on the perceived payoff. The case was that I was a director wishing to make a movie. My partner was the VP of a production house. We has issues like the choice of lead roles, locations, budget, schedules, infrastructure, my pay package, bonus, editing, etc. The cumulative score of both parties had to be higher than other pairs to secure a higher grade while at the same time you had to get a higher score than your partner for a better relative grade. Tough call!!!

We started the exam with draw of lots to select our negotiating partners. I'll call my partner VP. In the 2 minutes before we proceeded for part 1 (strategy) I did a small background check and was told that the guy was extremely good with numbers, will prepare in detail and has work experience of 7 years. Going into the paper I was prepared for being inundated with numbers and analysis.

Numbers have been kind to me in all exams till date. In examinations that matter the guy who set the paper has been kind enough to give us problems without too much of math, the kind that has more letters of the alphabet than numbers. The only way to deal with an analyst style of thinking is to keep him busy. Ask him doubts. Make him calculate. Keep on revising offers to make him working on the payoffs. (Refer to a course called 'Leadership and Managerial Effectiveness' for the gyaan!)

Well I have to say that VP was good. Way beyond good. He played shock and awe. Basically he would link up points, lead to an offer, lead me to a position and then suddenly make a counter offer that I just could not refuse because of the statements that I made in the lead up to me taking a stand. What probably saved my arse was the fact that I saw it coming just before I fell into his trap and instantly set into throwing arbit data, statements and some emotional stuff (They call it the snowballing strategy in theory!). After about 30 minutes I saw we were getting nowhere. Well I was the guy to blame because I was about to fall in his trap twice and both times I had to use the snowballing thingie. It was getting too much because our VP was essentially on a roll, I was stalling and time was running out. And thats when luck turned my way!

Before we go further I should tell you that our course facilitator loves to bluff. One of his bluffs here was to give a zero to the pair that did not reach a settlement. For all the genius at negotiating that he was, VP could not call this bluff. There was no mention of the zero in the question paper and it was a verbal agreement. The facilitator used it as a tactic to get students reach an agreement, because if they did not, it would be extremely difficult for him to judge the candidates. Imagine him giving a zero and the student challenging the decision. How could he substantiate it, especially when he has explicitly stated time and again that a 'no agreement' is better than getting conned.

Coming back to our exercise, the following was the conversation 5 minutes before end time.
Me: "I want to back off from this deal. I can find other production houses"
VP: "I too can find other directors"
Me: "Fine then. Lets sign the settlement sheet saying that we didn't reach an agreement"
VP" "But we both will get a zero"
Me: "I don't mind."

At this time the prof waltzs past, smiling benovelently. VP looks up to him and making a grave face shakes his head. The prof warns 'Zero for both' before disappearing past the door.

VP makes another offer which sounds ridiculous. I flatly refuse.

Me: Please write 'No Agreement' and sign the settlement sheet.
VP: Here you write it. (Maybe he thought I was bluffing)

I take my pen out and ask for the correct phrasing of the sentence. VP seeing that I'm serious makes another offer. It sounds better but not good enough. The invigilator asks us for the sheet, which is still blank. I tell him to collect it on his way back.

With VP in a corner. I start making my offer. I ask for some and concede some. VP makes a few changes. It looks much better. I get what I want in my section 1 report. VP not looking too happy walks off.

I later come to know that we almost ended up with the same number of points, albeit me a lil' higher by 50 points. I am later told that VP is admired for his negotiating skills by faculty and students. Cumulatively we didn't get the highest but we did well and considering that the odds were against me I think I did well to contain him (I am told he said that I drove him nuts!)

And so before I end this long post, something I learnt today: The situation decides the winner ... upto that point in time you can sit back and marvel at genius (Aptly demonstrated by Italy in the World Cup this year)

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