3 Negotiation Lessons That Don’t Seem To Stick

Holy shiny red apple Batman, The Chicago Teacher’s strike is over!

It was a rough 7 days for parents and students in the nation’s third largest public school system. Child-care juggling, trying to keep kids on some kind of routine, extra school days tacked onto summer … a major inconvenience for thousands. Friend and Chicago Public School parent, Phil Dunn, limericked his sentiments midway through the strike:

The teachers’ strike enters Day 4.
A copter again ends my snore.
There’s some hope it may end,
That both sides might bend,
And I really can’t take this no more.

Eventually both sides did bend and, thankfully, kids are back in school.

This debacle got me thinking.

One of my most memorable experiences in graduate school at Cornell University, was negotiating a contract through a collective bargaining simulation. No agreed contract by 8pm Friday night? The two sides received a big fat “F”. Yes, we were quite motivated to get that thing ratified. Not to mention, our beloved professor Sarosh Kuruvilla, had a tradition of treating the class to beers at a local pub after the exercise.

So Mayor Emanuel, Chicago Teacher’s Union, Chicago Board of Education ….. before you cause utter chaos for 350,000 children and their parents, please pause and remember these basic lessons we snotty nosed, naïve-yet-hubris-filled grad students learned in ILR Collective Bargaining 205:

  • Focus on interests, not positions. Reread the classic book Getting to Yes. An interest is the underlying need, while a position is how you satisfy it. Many negotiations are laser focused on positions, and the underlying interests (i.e. what’s best for the CPS students) get lost.
  • Assume all are potential allies. The Cohen-Bradford Influence Model, found in their book Influence Without Authority, starts with embracing this mindset. If you think from the get-go the other side is out to screw you, it’s that much harder to find common ground.
  • Take someone else’s perspective. When you can step back and see the issue through the other person’s point of view and appreciate their world and true interests, you’ll have a much better understanding about what they can give and what they want from you in return.

Maybe we won’t live to see the day when Rahm Emanuel and Chicago Teacher’s Union president Karen Lewis stroll arm and arm down lakeshore path like old pals. That’s ok, as long as they remember to keep the students, and not periphery positions, at the heart of the conversation.


Marta Steele is a Partner at PeopleResults. Connect with her on Twitter @MartaSteele or through email at msteele@www.people-results.com.