Compromise has become such a dirty word. In a world of winner-takes-all and take-it-or-leave-it, you need to be tough. Conflict and competition are natural; fair play and collaboration are fairy tales. Of course, concessions are for cowards. No one wants to be on the losing end – or be known as the guy who could’ve got more or given up less.
That’s how negotiations are sometimes treated. The other side will bully, belittle, badger, and bluster. If that doesn’t work, they can always speculate or stonewall. In business school, MBAs are taught not to take that bait. Here, a real negotiation involves flushing out the possibilities, finding common ground, and sketching out the long-term big picture. It demands self-awareness and preparation at the start, along with flexibility and poise amid the give-and-take. In other words, negotiation is as challenging as it is essential. That’s one reason why the Class of 2019 often cited it as the most valuable MBA class they took.
NOT A ZERO SUM GAME
At the University of Cambridge, the second part of the Management Praxis focuses on negotiation frameworks. In this class, Nana Mohan Zhou explored the types of negotiations, along with their ethical and emotional dimensions. More importantly, the course included simulated negotiations where Zhou and her classmates could evaluate their performance during debriefs. In the end, the Praxis delivered what the best courses always do: They left Mohan Zhou feeling more confident and optimistic than when she entered.
“It was my favorite because it helped us understand that the world is often not playing a zero-sum game. In nearly all simulations, there was value that can be created through collaboration. The pursuit of making a whole greater than the sum of its parts is invigorating.”
Negotiations is also a popular elective at Texas A&M. Like Cambridge’s Praxis, this course focused on hands-on, practical application. For Alistair Wallace, a 2019 Best & Brightest MBA like Mohan Zhou, the course hit home. An entrepreneur, Wallace learned negotiations are often “won” by parties who plan better since they can offer suggestions the other side hadn’t considered. That’s exactly what Andrea Caralis has done by applying the lessons in Carnegie Mellon’s Negotiations course to her personal life.
“I’m planning a wedding – so my vendors have seen my skills,” she jokes.
LOOKING AT THE WORLD…FROM CHINA’S PERSPECTIVE
Every MBA has that favorite course. Some consider it to be their defining moment, an awakening that they refer back to throughout their careers. Such courses provoke, motivate, prepare, and ultimately shape the students who take them. That why Poets&Quants asked this year’s Best & Brightest MBAs to list their favorite business school course. Even more, we asked them to share how it impacted them, whether that be exposing them to new ideas, pushing them to question, or changing how they view their world…and themselves.
At CEIBS, the China Within the World course managed to achieve all three of these for Pablo Che León Sarmiento. A debate-driven class, students would argue contentious topics such as whether Democracy was actually necessary for growth. Over the course, Sarmiento not only examined Chinese geopolitical philosophy and business norms, but also learned to weigh different viewpoints and defend their own positions.
“The insight I gained from this activity is that most often we judge and make assumptions about our counterparts’ opinions or logic,” Sarmiento explains. “We do not take the time or interest to listen carefully to why he or she may think in a specific way. In our case, diversity of thought was actually a strength, because it provided us additional arguments we could use to defend or argue in favor of our assigned position.”
FINANCE FOR POETS
Asking questions – precise and strategic – is one of the best ways to spark such discussions. That’s the secret behind the University of Minnesota’s Corporate Strategy course, which is taught by Myles Shaver. Using the Socratic Method, Shaver was able to explore viewpoints from all angles, flushing out their limitations, implications, and contradictions in the process.
“Myles led us down a deliberate path each week, helping us to think critically and gain more insight into how firms have to make tough decisions about business lines, products, and resources,” explains Tiana Birawer. “He was able to boil it down to two fundamental questions that I know I will be taking with me in my career: “How does my firm add value” and “Does my firm need to own a resource to extract value?”
Arrhythmia of Finance is another course that poses deceptively basic questions to upend how students think – this time about risk and uncertainty. The course is taught by Dartmouth Tuck’s Peter Fisher, a former BlackRock executive and undersecretary with the U.S. Treasury. Think of it as finance for poets, where the objective, says Sophia Cornew, is to examine thought processes over hitting the right number.
“Since we don’t get to choose our outcomes in life, we instead need to focus on setting our objective and reference points: what is my goal? Relative to what? By intentionally setting our objective and reference point, this allows us to understand risk as the probability (e.g. if something is likely or unlikely) that our outcome deviates from our stated objective. As someone looking to build ventures, I see my ability to manage risk and distinguish it from uncertainty as critical to my success. Professor Fisher’s course has given me stronger judgment in the face of risk and uncertainty.”
WHARTON BRINGS CEOs TO CLASS
It wasn’t just rock star professors making an impact with this year’s Best & Brightest MBAs. At Wharton, Michal Benedykcinski lists Decision Making in the Leadership Chair as his favorite course. It was impressive enough, he says, that the seven-week course was taught by William P. Lauder, the executive chairman of the Estée Lauder Companies. Better yet, Lauder was able to bring in a dream team of guests to teach his 50 second-years.
“We got a unique opportunity to engage with some of America’s leading CEOs and gain invaluable insights into the multi-dimensional role of the leader,” Benedykcinski says. “The experiences our guest speakers bring to the classroom coupled with Mr. Lauder’s subject matter expertise has been a case in point of what Wharton’s Knowledge for Action is about. After every class, we get a chance to have dinner with our distinguished guests, and I have received some of the best career advice at Wharton when breaking bread with Ed Breen, Chairman and CEO at DowDuPont and William Clay Ford Jr., Executive Chairman at Ford. Taking the theories of management and testing them in a lively dialogue with the titans of the industry has certainly left a positive mark on my leadership journey.”