Attending negotiation skills training

This week, I attended an intense four-day negotiation skills training course. As commercial negotiations are not a part of my job, I have not developed the related skills. I thought I would share some reflections here, as I found it quite insightful.

At my company, we put 56 of our senior leaders through this program this year. Curious to understand more about the program, its content, and how to help the participants apply the learning on the job, I accepted an invitation from the company that runs the program for us, to attend an open session in Manila, held for prospective customers.

Here are some things I learned about negotiation this week, and how I see this applying to me life – even though I don’t do commercial negotiations as part of my job.

The first realization: not all negotiations are the same. This might seem obvious, but people tend to adopt behaviors that are appropriate for only certain types of negotiations. Because of this, they are not as successful in other types of negotiations, because they are using the wrong behaviors.

The different types of negotiations are defined by two factors: the complexity of the deal and the dependence of the relationship between the parties. In a simple deal between two parties who will likely never see each other again (bargaining at Chatuchak Weekend Market in Bangkok, for example), you can haggle over the price. In a complex deal between two parties whose fortunes are intertwined (what helps you will also help me and vice-versa), a more diplomatic approach is necessary – one where trust is high.

The implication for me: recognizing that I’m generally better at negotiations that are more on the diplomatic end of things, where trust-building is necessary. Because of this, I need to treat negotiations that are more on the haggler end with a more appropriate set of behaviors: I need to speak less, listen more. I need to state my position or offer unambiguously and then stay quiet. I need to make more extreme opening positions and then have a stepped plan to move into a more acceptable range of prices. And I need to flinch when a counter-offer is made.

The second realization is the idea of creating more value. When people see a negotiation as only a give-take scenario (“who gets the largest slice of the pie”), it limits the possibilities. As you move towards more diplomatic negotiations, you have an opportunity to increase the overall value of the deal.

The analogy the instructor used was of poker chips. Imagine there is a stack of blue chips on the table. They represent the price of what is being negotiated. That is a major variable and we will negotiate over who gets how big a share of those chips. But there are other chips, too.

In your hand, you have green chips. And your counter-party has red chips. Chose chips represent variables that have low marginal value for the person holding them, but which could provide high additional value for the other party. The negotiation can proceed as a series of “if you, then we” statements:

  • If you could increase the payment terms by 30 days, we could increase our total order by 1,000 units.
  • If you could reduce the price by 10%, we could run a special promotion featuring your products on our website home page and give you a featured location next to the cash register.
  • If you could help me fold the laundry, I could walk the dog after dinner.

These conditional trades allow much more value to be added to the deal, so that everyone has a greater satisfaction with the outcome. It takes understanding what variables are important to you and some research and assumptions about what variables will be important for the other party. And it takes a lot of trust-building behaviors.

The implication for me: spend more time thinking about what is important to other parties and consider how I can create more value by adding things to the deal in exchange for other things that are valuable for me. As the instructor put it, “if you give something, you get something”.

The week was a busy one and it was personally fulfilling. I have a lot more to learn about negotiation and the best way is to practice. So if you have any negotiations you are preparing for, I would be happy to talk through them with you and help you plan your strategy.

Visiting Greece

Our trip in May and June focused mostly on almost two weeks in Greece: eight nights in Athens and five in Santorini. Greece was not a country high on my priority list. In fact, we ended up there only because my niece wanted to visit, after studying ancient Greece in her history class. But I’m glad I went. It is a bit rough around the edges but has its charms, and as a value for money, is pretty good.

There’s the history. Especially in Athens, you see the places that your seventh grade ancient history teacher taught you about. That’s pretty amazing.

Classic Greek salad with a slab of Feta cheese on top.

There’s the food. Grecian food is, like most Mediterranean food, fairly rustic. The ingredients are excellent and there are some great values to be had for both food and wine.

There’re the sunsets. We saw some pretty nice sunsets in both Athens and Santorini. I don’t know if I would travel all the way to Greece just for sunsets, but they made the trip all the better.

I’ve added two pages to the Greece section of my travel blog. I hope you will enjoy reading them, will share them with anyone you know who is traveling that way soon. And, please, provide any feedback and share your suggestions.

To read more about the Athens part of the trip, click here.

To read more about the Santorini part of the trip, click here.

How the world has changed in six months

Last November, the day after my birthday, there were two major shifts in the tectonic plates of my life. I recognized quickly that these would have significant ramifications and while they are still playing out, I can see more clearly what the results of the first shift have been. This afternoon’s lunch is evidence enough:

That would be Tawn and me having lunch (at KFC) with my father- and mother-in-law. Such an event would have been unthinkable for the first nearly 19 years of our relationship, but has quickly become a regular event. So much so, that we have progressed from rather formal meals to casual, ad hoc ones.

I am really happy at this turn of events and, as I said to Tawn, it is a good reminder that none of us can predict the future. Things can change, rapidly and drastically. No matter how untenable you find a situation to be, it is possible for it to change.

Of course, I am also happy because I now have the opportunity to better get to know the people who most shaped who my husband is. Spending time with Khun Sudha and Khun Nui, I see behaviors, gestures, and nuances that strike a familiar chord, played in only a slightly different key by Khun Tawn. This allows me to appreciate him more fully, because I have the context of how he became who he is.

The shifting tectonic plates, part one

Two days after my birthday, the tectonic plates of my life started shifting. While I am not a believer in fortune-telling, one has to wonder if the stars and planets were aligned just so, to produce so much upheaval in such a short time! This chapter covers the first of the changes, involving my father-in-law.

For the more than 18 years that Tawn and I have been together, my father-in-law has wanted no interaction with me. Not atypical for a Thai-Chinese father, he wanted a “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach to Tawn’s relationship with me. In fact, the only time we spent together was some 15 years ago when Tawn’s parents came to visit him in San Francisco. That was limited to a visit to Mission Dolores and then dinner at a French restaurant.

In the 13 years since I moved to Bangkok, we have had only one very brief interaction until two months ago. Two months ago, while Tawn was taking his parents to the hospital for a check-up, he mentioned that I was going to be there, too, for an appointment. His father waited to see me, but that interaction lasted less than two minutes.

Then, two days after my birthday, Tawn had a severe allergic reaction to some medicine and I had to rush him to the emergency room. (He is fine now.) He called his parents and they joined, resulting in us spending the day together and having to confer on decisions about the best course of treatment.

At the end of the day as the staff was preparing Tawn for release, Tawn’s father suggested that if I had to work the following day, I should drop Tawn off at their house and they would look after him.

The following morning, after taking some conference calls from home, I dropped Tawn off at his parents’ house – about a ten-minute drive from ours. Tawn’s father came out and greeted me and suggested that after work, I come back to fetch Tawn and he would open a bottle of wine for us.

That evening, I stopped by after dark, not sure what to expect. What do you discuss with a father-in law with whom you have had no real interaction? Tawn’s father greeted me, invited me in and for the next two hours, served wine, engaged in a conversation about many things (including wanting to understand more about what I do for work) and we had dinner.

The evening ended with a “will see you again soon” that seemed to indicate that a new era has opened. In speaking with Tawn, we suspect that this medical emergency was sort of a catalyst. Perhaps Tawn’s father had already softened some time ago, but had not had an opportunity to break down the walls. The medical emergency provided the opportunity.

That was about five weeks ago and I haven’t seen Tawn’s father since, so we’re easing into this brave new world. But we have a holiday meal planned for the next week and I suspect that it will change the landscape of our world considerably.

For my own reflection, I realize that while I had accepted from the start that Tawn’s father’s openness and acceptance was not something I should expect or hope for, deep inside I think there was a lot of insecurity festering.

We don’t have the legal protections in Thailand that a married couple in the United States or some other countries have. Knowing that, if something happened to Tawn, my rights to his portion of our property could be challenged by his father, created underlying tension. As the relationship with his father has improved, it lets me relax my guard a bit and worry a little less about the future.

 

Back from holiday in Europe

Two weeks ago, I returned from an 18-day trip to Europe, a combination of work and relaxation. While I didn’t plan it to be this complicated, it ended up being a five country, eight city itinerary. In the coming days and weeks, I will write more details about the trip and update the pages on my website with restaurants and recommendations.

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London was a sneaky twenty-three hour layover I managed to build in unexpectedly. I didn’t have the opportunity to meet friends but did get a nice walk in along the River Thames on a blustery Autumn morning and once the sun emerged stopped by the Spitalfields Market for excellent shengjianbao.

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Barcelona was my second stop, a week to deliver training (a bit of a fudge to my previous role as technically I am not longer heading the leadership development organization at DKSH). This was my second trip to Barcelona and I had a bit more opportunity to explore than last time, when I traveled with my parents and husband. Lots of good food on this trip.

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Italy was a return some 17 years after my first visit. We went to Firenze to see my cousin and his family, Matera to see the mysterious and beautiful city of caves, and Ostuni to explore the charm of the Puglia region – the “heel” of Italy’s “boot”. This trip reminded me what the quality of life is so high in Italy: simple food, nice weather, beautiful views and friendly people.

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Vienna was a a first-time visit for me. I wasn’t sure what to expect and ended up charmed by the city. It is a bit of a set piece for some European imperial costume drama, at least as far as buildings go. This is a city and country I would like to explore further.

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Zurich was a return visit for work. In fact, I stopped into the city three times on this trip, enjoying the convenient train system to pop into the city during my layovers and then concluding with a two-night stay for work. This time I was able to explore a bit further and enjoyed some good food and friendly company.

This trip provided some neat random connections, running into people I had not expected to see and striking up conversations with strangers who happened to have connections with me in different random ways. It reminds me that this is a very small world and that traveling it helps us appreciate that which is different and that which is universal.

More coming soon.

 

My week in a Taipei love motel

I travel frequently for work. Sometimes, this leads to some exciting adventures and unexpected, delightful discoveries. Hidden treasures, if you will. This last trip to Taipei included an altogether un-delightful discovery: I had booked myself into a love motel.

For those of you not in the know, a love motel is a place where couples, married and otherwise, can book some private quality time. It seems such places are more common in Asia where multiple generations live together and you might not be able to find as much privacy.

This place, the Mulan Motel in Taipei, is located very close to my office. After some disappointing experiences at other nearby hotels, I searched on booking.com and found the Mulan. “Ah yes,” I thought, “I’ve passed by that several times. It looks quite decent.”

Sure enough, the photos and reviews on booking.com were quite positive and the price was reasonable – only about US$130 a night. So I booked it.

Being a price-sensitive traveller, always trying to save my company money, I took the train in from the airport and walked the 800 meters from the station to my hotel. My first clue that this was not your average hotel was the lack of a lobby. Instead, you descended a driveway into a subterranean car park. The only office was a larger-than-normal guard box.

I also noticed that all of the parking spaces had a curtain that could be pulled around the car. “Perhaps to keep the dust off?” I optimistically thought.

Taking the lift to my room, I noticed the interior was quite dark and gaudy. Clearly a different decorating scheme than a conventional hotel. Then I found my room and opened the door:

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The room was quite large, with high ceilings and ostentatious decorations. A large bed sat in the middle of the room, with a large television and speaker system across from it. The light did not get any brighter and mood music played automatically. The far wall was solid glass with a heavy black curtain blocking the view to the bathroom.

My first clue that this might not be a long-stay hotel was the lack of a closet in which to hang my clothes. The second clue were the condoms in a bowl by the side of the bed. “Well,” I thought, “maybe the expectations are a bit different in the Taiwanese culture?”

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The bathroom was almost as large as the bedroom with a deep bathtub and a glass shower. There were towels and the usual amenities but it all felt a little off. Everything was clean, though.

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Oddly, there were no windows. Or, rather, the windows were covered with a black plastic film that, I discovered the next morning, had exotic butterfly shapes cut out in them so the morning sun would stream through them in a not-quite-claustrophobic way.

The staff seemed to sense my confusion. They struggled to create a proper invoice for me – unlikely that any of their guests have asked for proof of payment! They were friendly, though, and directed me to the restaurant where a sorry set breakfast was available included in the price of my room.

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The only upside to this hotel was the location. It was a two-minute walk from Starbucks, a three-minute walk from the office, and a five-minute run from a beautiful park along the river, where I ran two mornings with a colleague.

Thankfully, my week at the love motel was only three nights. I ended up unharmed and unmolested and upon my return wrote a strongly worded review on booking.com that this hotel should not be listed there as it is appropriate for neither business travelers nor families.

 

Welcome to the year of the dog

The Chinese and other lunar calendars in East Asia are based on a twelve-year cycle, with each year being represented by an animal. This year, which began Feb 16, is the year of the dog. It also represents the completion of my fourth cycle, for I will turn 48 later this year.

A friend who has known me several years was surprised by that information. “You will be 48 this year? Really?” I am not sure if he expected me to be younger or older.

A couple of younger colleagues were commenting that they, too, are born in the year of the dog. I quickly realized they are completing only their second cycle.

Based on my grandparents’ longevity, there is a reasonable chance that I should make it to my eighth cycle, so I am about halfway along this journey.

The being older doesn’t bother me – this is the natural course of things. I do notice that I am increasingly aware of my age: I am conscious that I am working and interacting with people whose reference points are significantly different than mine.

The thing I am most aware of is the realization that the further you travel through life, the more you realize how little you really know. Youth comes with unearned certainty. Age brings experience and a measure of wisdom in the form of humility: What could I know about life? I am still living it.

In any case, I will celebrate this year as a milestone and endeavor to learn as much from it as possible. Happy year of the dog. May it bring you prosperity, good health and great happiness.