Wharton’s Mori Taheripour on how to negotiate the right way • TechCrunch

Mori Taheripour teaches negotiation at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, where she has taught undergraduate, MBA and Executive MBA students how to make better business conversations. Taheripour has also coached corporate clients, including on behalf of Goldman Sachs and Major League Baseball, on how to become more confident and comfortable negotiating, a skill everyone uses on a daily basis but is viewed more as a kind of dark art.

Against the backdrop of one of the most high-profile negotiations in recent memory, centered on Elon Musk’s ongoing stop-and-go plans to buy Twitter, aware that many readers are currently negotiating on their own behalf — for more time, more funding , a better exit package, less investor protection – we spoke to Taheripour earlier this week to ask where negotiations tend to stall and how to help them succeed. Excerpts from this chat follow, edited for length and clarity.

TC: You have been an expert in dispute resolution and negotiation for more than a decade. They also published a book on the subject during the pandemic, which was well received. For people who haven’t read it, is the ability to negotiate well more intuitive or fully learned?

It’s something you learn, and I actually think most people are better negotiators than they think because we do it so often. It’s only when we look at negotiations through the lens of things that are really transactional and maybe conflict-laden that people put negotiations into a category of things that people don’t really enjoy or are really scared of or really uncomfortable and that they want to drop it off. But any parent, anyone in a relationship, anyone with employees, anyone with a pet… . is probably really good at negotiation.

I struggle with a very bossy terrier on a daily basis, but like many others, I find formal negotiations daunting. What are some of the most common missteps people make when in a business negotiation process?

At the heart of all negotiations is the human connection. That’s where the magic happens. Most negotiations are non-transactional. The best negotiations are either nurturing relationships we already have or creating new ones. And if you look at it that way, negotiations become conversations. Some conversations are more difficult than others. But they shouldn’t be if we want to open up to them with a sense of empathy and be creative and not focus on a solution.

Your book is about “negotiating fearlessly,” but there’s a fine line between fearless and cocky. Any pointers for readers who might be wondering how to bridge that boundary?

Much of this stems from negative self-talk and self-sabotage. You will not be an excellent negotiator just because you are smarter and have a higher IQ. Being a great negotiator really starts with avoiding yourself. Good negotiators are great storytellers who can see themselves from a place of esteem and fearlessly stand up for themselves.

If you don’t believe in yourself, if you don’t fearlessly understand your own worth, then the goals you set will diminish. You will be safe. They can even become mediocre. And once your goals are watered down and secure, then what you’re asking for will reflect those goals and you won’t get enough.

The moment you give up your power, you either retreat to do the other [party] making people happy or avoiding conflicts – then you can’t keep the conversation going. You need to have the confidence that you are both part of this conversation and that your space is just as important as hers. That doesn’t mean these two things are mutually exclusive; it means you are looking for solutions that are mutually inclusive.

What do you say to people in an M&A-like situation who you advise to never take the first offer and to push for 20% more? Are any of these really relevant?

The way I teach is not prescribed at all. I don’t believe in always and I don’t believe in never.

As we get older, our gut feelings become stronger and our intuition and emotional intelligence grow stronger. We should use these to navigate conversations instead of trying to remember what a professor said in class. Being cooped up like this creates a lot of anxiety, especially since no negotiation is the same and the person sitting across from you, that audience, is always different.

Elon Musk has apparently tried to negotiate with Twitter on Twitter, either knock down the price or go out of business or buy himself some time – who knows. In any case, the intention is obviously to make the conversation – or part of it – so public, and I wonder if this will become some sort of case study for future negotiations.

He plays by completely different rules. Five or ten years ago that would probably be a nightmare for shareholders and companies because you want to record what’s happening until it’s done and then go public with it. But what’s quite traditional is that he controls his own story and the messages that come out are his, no matter how confusing.

If you think about it, he’s been testing the waters for a lot longer than the six months since he proposed buying Twitter. Every time he says something about Tesla stock, the prices change; people react immediately. So I think he realized the power he had in literally changing markets [by using Twitter].

Do you think there is a master plan here? Do you see any logic in this mess?

To be honest, I was incredibly surprised when the deal fell apart – and litigation was looming and things got messy and he tried to back down – I figured that if the deal went through, the stock price or the deal’s valuation would be safe would come would be at least significantly lower. When [the deal was suddenly] back and it wasn’t lower, I was amazed.

What I can tell you is that I don’t think Elon Musk is doing anything by accident. I think it was a big intention. Twitter is this incredible communication platform, and if you can control that one way or another, that’s a lot of power. For a man who controls the transport in a way, [and] future space, I don’t think he woke up one day and said, “Oh, maybe I should buy Twitter.” I think this has been on his mind for quite some time. And I think he obviously sees his worth, maybe in a way that none of us can even imagine.

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