Nothing warms up an audience like laughter. Last semester I observed how several of my professors used humor to animate their lessons, particularly Bob Bordone and Debbie Goldstein of Harvard’s Spring Negotiation Workshop. Through skits, role-playing exercises, and tactfully incorporated film clips, Bob and Debbie used humor to make challenging negotiation concepts stick.
This week I will attempt to model this approach during a weeklong training on effective negotiation at the iHub. This short course builds off of the two talks I led here in Nairobi earlier in the summer, but provides much more time for dialogue, a full-blown negotiation simulation, and of course, a generous dose of snark and humor. Thanks to the continued support of Harvard’s Program on Negotiation (PON) and Tufts’ Institute for Global Leadership (IGL), I am able to offer this course free of charge to colleagues from Ushahidi, researchers at the iHub, and the winners of last month’s Pivot East competition.
Yesterday marked the first day of the four-part series and centered on the seven elements of negotiation pioneered by William Ury and Roger Fisher in Getting to Yes. A small but engaged group of entrepreneurs explored Ury and Fisher’s elements, considering how these concepts could be applied to their own negotiations with potential partners and investors. At first, the participants were reticent. I have seen this before. It’s tough to speak up in a group, especially in front of your colleagues. But I eventually got the conversation flowing, in part thanks to the battery of helpful facilitation techniques I picked up while working for Uncle D (our tongue-in-cheek nickname for Deloitte). For example, using sticky notes as a brainstorming tool is a surefire way to draw out the wallflowers. This simple piece of adhesive paper can be used as a microphone, amplifying ideas that would otherwise remain trapped in shy but sharp minds.
This afternoon we will continue to unpack the seven elements, but tomorrow is when the real fun begins. Wednesday and Thursday we will dive headfirst into a Harvard-designed negotiation simulation. The case, codenamed Appleton v. Baker, is one of the first exercises I completed as a young negotiation student. While centered on a real estate deal, the underpinnings of this case provide ample opportunity to experiment with the seven elements of interest-based negotiation. I am confident that the group of edgy software engineers and entrepreneurs will take the exercise quite seriously—and I cannot wait to see how things shake out. After the one-on-one simulation we will come back together as a larger group to review and discuss the results.
While I realize that a short negotiation training is not going to transform these East Africans into rockstar negotiators, I believe it will elevate their communication skills and hopefully lead to more equitable deals as they move forward with their businesses. Research has hinted that teaching interest-based negotiation skills in Africa works. Consider the success of Innovation for Poverty Action’s (IPA) Girls Negotiation program that emboldened young Zambian women to make smart, productive life choices. Arming entrepreneurs with similar negotiation toolkits is an important step in the development of effective leaders—especially those set to pilot the future of Kenya’s dynamic tech ecosystem.