The wonderful world of online education

I am a big fan of online learning and have done many Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC’s) on Coursera (www.coursera.org).

Last year I participated in an online course in « Negotiation & Influence » at Yale University (http://sg.emeritus.org/management-certificate-programs/negotiation-and-influence/) thanks to the faculty development fund of BSL. It was my objective to update myself on these topics, because I teach a class on Business Ethics and Negotiation at BSL.

In addition to learning new fun stuff, this course helped me to put myself in the shoes of my students. I realized that I couldn’t always answer all questions in the weekly quizzes even though I had listened attentively to all the video lectures. This reminded me not to be disappointed when the same thing happens to my students. You just cannot expect students to remember or understand everything that you said just once in class. Of course, everything is crystal clear to you as a teacher, also because you are deep into your topic and have given the class before. Forgetting this is a common “déformation professionelle” of teachers. You always must try harder, repeat, document, and check if students have understood, let them repeat what the task was, be patient and never take it personally.

Besides this more general lesson in self-awareness, this course was extremely useful to get new ideas for my own course.

On the other hand, I was a bit skeptical: Can you really teach a highly interactive skill like negotiating online? Of course, in negotiation you must learn basic concepts like how to prepare for a negotiation, how to haggle, or how to close a deal, but in the end, you always learn the most if you actually negotiate. I was curious to find out how you could run role play negotiations in the virtual space.

It turned out that negotiating online is no problem at all. My fellow students and I met on a special online platform, or we negotiated via WhatsApp or Skype. Every week during this two-month course, we were assigned to classmates that were in our time zone. Of course, it was different from face to face negotiation, but I found it almost as good. Furthermore, in today’s world many negotiations do take place on the phone, on Skype or via email.

What I really liked about the course was its broad focus. As the title “Negotiation & Influence” implies, it went far beyond simply trying to get the biggest piece of the pie. Indeed, negotiation is so much more! It is basically a decision-making process that you need every time you cannot achieve your goals alone (this nice definition comes from the godmother of negotiation, Leigh Thompson, and is the foundation of the course I teach). In today’s business world, it is virtually impossible to achieve our goals alone. This is why negotiation is so important.

If we look at negotiation like this, it is also clear that things like relationships and trust are key. According to research, the “subjective value” of a negotiation (i.e. did I have a good relationship with my partner, did I feel treated with fairness, did I feel good during the negotiation) is even more important than the objective mostly monetary value I achieve in a negotiation.  Even if the objective value one gains from a negotiation is positive, this “victory” is not sustainable if you felt uncomfortable with your negotiation partner, or felt rushed or treated with disrespect.

However, if the partners both enjoyed the interaction, they have a great foundation for the future. One study even shows that job applicants that experienced positive subjective value during their salary negotiations were more likely to like their job and stay in their job one year after the job negotiations (http://web.mit.edu/curhan/www/docs/Publications/Curhan_Getting_Off_on_the_Right_Foot.pdf).

You did not only learn theoretically about this concept of subjective value in negotiations, but even found out how your negotiation partners experienced you with respect to the subjective value you brought to the table. After every round of negotiation, we filled out a questionnaire (http://www.subjectivevalue.com/) about how we felt about ourselves and our partners during the negotiation, and so did our partners. That way, we received a highly individualized feedback on how we were perceived as negotiation partners in comparison to how we experienced it ourselves.

Another highlight of this course was learning how to deal with difficult negotiation tactics like stonewalling, threats or insults. Here the key is not to succumb to the impulsive reaction of either surrendering to these tactics, mimic them or quit the negotiation. Firstly, you need to avoid emotional reactions and try to look at the situation with detachment. This strategy is called “going to the balcony”. It takes some practice, but once you created this kind of emotional distance it is much easier to either simply ignore the mean tactics or deflect them by either asking smart questions (Please explain to me why the price is suddenly so important?) or naming the game (We came here to negotiate with respect. You do not need to insult me. Can we please continue differently now?). We had to apply evil tactics in one of our role plays and this was especially eye-opening as we changed roles: First my partner tested all kinds of difficult tactics with me and I had to try to stay calm, detached and reasonable. Then we switched roles. I must admit that continuing to be evil was pretty hard, because my partner did a great job in staying calm and reasonable!

In conclusion, online courses are a great way to update yourself on the state of the art of your field, you get new ideas for your own teaching and you stay in touch with the students’ experience. I am already looking for my next MOOC.

 

Prof.-Bettina-PalazzoAuthor: Dr. Bettina Palazzo
Professor at BSL

How to negotiate for Ethics in a Crisis: The Greenpeace-Nestlé case

In March 2010 food-giant Nestlé had to learn the hard way, how to (not) react to a hostile NGO attack: Greenpeace had released a video that made the link between palm oil used in Nestlé’s Billion-Dollar-Brand KitKat and the destruction of rain forests in Indonesia that kills Orangutans.

http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/campaigns/climate-change/kitkat/

The video was shocking and went viral in no time. Nestlé’s first reaction was to prohibit Greenpeace to show the video on the internet. A bad move in the world of social media, because this even multiplied the interest in the video. This was probably even wanted by Greenpeace because consequently the campaign gained an unbelievable momentum: Internet users kept sharing the video and as a sign of solidarity even used the logo of the Greenpeace campaign (the KitKat brand logo modified into Killer) as their Facebook profile picture.

Of course, Nestlé did not actively kill orangutans, like the video suggested. The problem was created deep down in their supply chain. Palm oil is cultivated in South-East Asia and it is an ingredient of about 50% of all products that we buy on a daily basis: Shampoo, cookies, lipstick, ice-cream. It is virtually everywhere. It is cheap, it grows fast, it does not have a strong taste, it keeps chocolate solid at room temperature. One hectare of palm oil will give you six tons of oil. In comparison: one hectare of soy only generates a yield of one ton of oil. No wonder the world’s hunger for palm oil is ever increasing. Consequently, cultivators of palm oil actually do cut down rain forests in order to set up huge mono-cultural palm oil plantations, thereby destroying the habitat of orangutans. However, they also lift people out of poverty and build schools and hospitals. Palm oil and deforestation is a classical « wicked problem », i.e. it is complex, controversial, value driven, concerns many stakeholders and spans many domains (economic, social, political, legal, ethical). This is why such problems are very hard to solve.

In my class « Business Ethics and Negotiation » I confront my students with this case and then they need to figure out in a group work what had gone wrong in this case and develop a strategy for what Nestlé should do next. I ask them to imagine that they are the top-notch Ethics and CSR consultant and that they need to convince the Nestlé board.

This spring we had the great pleasure and privilege to actually receive the debriefing for the group work form the real-life world class CSR consultant who had helped Nestlé to cope with the KitKat crisis: Scott Poynton from The Forest Trust, a non-profit organization, that helps companies to improve their supply chains.

Guest-speaker Scott Poynton

Guest-speaker Scott Poynton

Scott is a hybrid between an activist and a consultant: He had realized that fighting deforestation and other sustainability disasters was more effective with companies than against them. Consequently, he became a “critical friend” to corporations in environmental trouble. Scott has helped some of the world’s leading companies to transform their supply chains for the better.

That made him the perfect mediator for Nestlé: He understood the problems multinationals have in keeping their supply chains out of trouble and he also is a trusted person at Greenpeace.

Scott shared with us that companies when being attacked by an NGO like Greenpeace often have trouble understanding the issues. This certainly was the case when Nestlé was attacked. The Nestlé top-management tried to explain to the Greenpeace spokesperson of the campaign on the phone that the company was doing a lot for the environment. Greenpeace campaigners know this kind of reaction and they usually react by saying: « They do not get it. They need more pain. » And they did get more pain, when Greenpeace campaigners dropped from the ceiling and unfolded banners during the Annual General Meeting.

This is why Scott’s first lesson for companies under NGO attack is to really understand what the issue is and what your responsibility is.

The Forest Trust helped Nestlé produce and implement « Responsible Sourcing Guidelines » with the objective to avoid sourcing palm oil that was linked to deforestation.

It turned out that many of my students’ good suggestions for change were too long-term to really help Nestlé out of the acute crises they faced: Reforestation, finding a substitute for palm oil are all good ideas, but they take too much time. Nestlé needed to get its valuable brand KitKat out of the negative headlines quickly and reach an agreement with Greenpeace that they would give them a break in the campaign.

In order to do this Scott’s second lesson is: Find common ground. This is easier said than done. The worlds and mind-sets of NGos and companies are often quite contrary. A company fighting to save the profits of very successful brands like KitKat notoriously have trouble seeing the ethical issue hidden somewhere in the product’s supply chain. At the same time, for NGO activists it is very hard to understand how you could not see it. This creates tensions. Then just throw in some pride and ego and the fact that in a corporation nobody wants to be blamed for these kinds of messes and you have an explosive mixture for a first negotiation meeting.

This is why, for Scott, one of the most important things (yes, this is lesson Nr. 3) in negotiating in heated situations is to start with the values of the persons involved. If you want to mediate between conflicting parties, you always need to genuinely believe that your negotiating partner is a reasonable, rational, and decent person. If you enter a sensitive negotiation already convinced that your counterpart is mean and evil, they will sense this instantly and the necessary basis of trust cannot even be started to be built.

Scott’s stories show very nicely that if you want to negotiate for issues around ethics and sustainability, you cannot use the standard “I win – you lose” approach to negotiation. In this approach, we only divide the cake and try to get the biggest piece of it. This does not work, when you are dealing with “wicked problems”. In these cases, concentrating on positions only leads to impasse, misunderstandings, blaming, and zero-sum games that nobody can win.

If you want to successfully negotiate conflicts around wicked problems, you need to concentrate on interests and try to create a larger cake for all parties involved. Nestlé was not interested in deforesting Indonesia and killing orangutans. They are interested in having a well functioning supply chain for good quality palm oil. In order to find out the interests of the other party, you have to stay open and not judge the other side. You have to ask the right questions to understand them, listen carefully and then you can find common ground.

Thank you, Scott, for bringing to life what my students have learned in theory and negotiation role plays in class in a way that they will remember every time they will eat a KitKat.

Prof.-Bettina-PalazzoDr. Bettina Palazzo
Professor at BSL

What I’ve learned from volunteering

The purpose of this article isn’t to convince you to volunteer, but to give you some real-life insight into what experience and skills volunteering can give you that can provide you with transferable skills for the workplace and vice versa, what workplace skills you can bring to a volunteer role.

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Journey towards Diversity

This BSL diversity journey began in a classroom. 11 students coming from very diverse cultures and countries were engaged in a case study in Professor Richard Pai’s “Negotiation and Leadership skills” course. Students from Russia, Colombia, South Africa, Romania, Dubai, Latvia, to name but a few nations represented that day, were present. 3 female and 8 male students – a really diverse group in every sense of the word. Continue reading