My HEC Paris Journey, Part V: Negotiate Like Your Life Depends on It

Written by Azat MardanMarch 29, 2020

Time flies. I’m already about two-thirds into the MSc Innovation and Entrepreneurship program at HEC Paris. The previous post I wrote was My HEC Paris Journey, Part IV: Organize and Incentivize. From the time I published it, I’ve taken these seven courses:

  1. Design Thinking,
  2. Social Entrepreneurship & Changemaking,
  3. Scaling Up Operations,
  4. Marketing through Social Media,
  5. Team Working,
  6. How to Create a Business Plan and
  7. Fundamentals of Negotiation.

That’s a lot of courses in a span of several month. There were a lot of useful tidbits, insights and tips. Too many to write about right now. Ergo, I’ll talk in more details about the latest course which I finished today—Fundamentals of Negotiation.

Fundamentals of Negotiation

Fundamentals of Negotiation is a great course. It’s probably my most favorite course in this entire Master of Science program. That’s because I’ve started to apply it right away for negotiations in my business, at my job, during negotiating my consultancy engagements, book deals and my other entrepreneurial/business projects.

The course was very practical and unusual because it required six negotiation exercises with my classmates. They were conducted over video calls and emails from different parts of the world: Paris, Boston, Tokyo, Switzerland, Manila and me being in San Francisco. I liked these negotiations with partners a lot because they had very realistic and sometimes very detailed (10-page) scenarios or required negotiating over 6 main items.

The results of my negotiation exercises were 5 out of 6 deals at a win-win for everyone with my net profit at above average. The one negotiation didn’t happen partially because I felt that having no deal is better than having it and partially because we didn’t have time left.

Each negotiation exercise was followed up by a live video call and debrief with the professor and all students (who were able to join). Then, there were a series of recorded lectures that gave detailed tactics for the past week’s exercises. The lecture slides were fantastic and their graphics were superbly made. The slides changed a lot to keep all of us engaged and focused, and at times the course slides were hilarious.

My major takeaways from this course are: start first to anchor the price, be more likable and listen for interests of other parties even if you don’t like (it’ll pay off in 1000s, 10,000s or even 100,000s saved on the deals later) and approach all items all at once when negotiating a complex deal with multiple things.

Let’s dive into each of them one by one. Anchoring of the price is something I like to do. I might be giving away my secrets here but I’ve heard very often a contrary suggestion that you must never go first. My experience shows it’s better to go first with a high number. Of course, to do that someone must know what is an okay and what is a high number. Thus, my rule of thumb is to find out as much as I can about the other party and the true value of things we’re negotiating about. Then, I can anchor a high price by make the first offer. Otherwise, I can wait for their first offer and while I’m waiting I’d be gathering more information.

Second, listening and being likable is really important. The numbers can be exactly the same, but in one case you can have no deal and in the other you can have a deal. The only difference is that when you have a deal that was the result of one or both party listening to each other in a therapy-like session. Why not go thru the trouble of playing a physiologist for 60-minute if you can get nice or nicer deal in the end.

Third, when you have multiple things to negotiate, it’s better to lay them out at once. This way you will avoid re-negotiating and back and forth on already agreed items.

I also liked the suggestions (or ideas) to frame the fairness into what’s more favorable to you (labs exercise), play on stereotypes (act aggressively if the other party expect you), and the on-purpose made typos in email negotiation (HarpersCollins and Apple exchange example).

Team Project

In addition to taking business, marketing and innovation courses, we started a team project at the start of 2020. This project will last almost one year. We had four team members but one dropped out. Ever weekly we work on milestones on our team call and asynchronously in shared documents. We have a coach assigned to us who helps us with team dynamics. Coaches are not supposed to grade or provide information on academia, i.e., the assignments or milestones.

Our project has an idea with a potential in the world. Meaning, maybe we (or someone else) can take it to the market to make a real business. Of course, ideas are plenty and abundant but what truly matters is the execution. For this reason and to follow the program’s milestones, we are slowly but surely executing on our idea and already created a few artifacts such as pitch desk, strategy, vision, marketing strategy, pricing, competitive analysis. Some of these paper artifacts might seem outdated or not needed. In a real business I would try to find customers first before creating a business plan. However, all these exercises at MSc Innovation and Entrepreneurship HES Paris are good exercise to acquire skills and get practice for future projects. The reason is that in a real project you won’t have a lot time to practice or research. Instead if you’re prepared and know what methodology to use, you’ll be more confident and achieve your goals faster.