By Charlotte Dodson, Imperial College London
Prepare, prepare, prepare. These were the three most important take-home messages from the EMBO course on communication and negotiation for female leaders at the end of September 2016.
Everything was defined in a scientific business context (no communication to lay audiences here) and after two and a half days of active listening, transactional analysis, thinking about relative needs and head-down building roadmaps for hard negotiations we wanted more!
Step one: ignore the other party and decide what you want. Oh so easy to say, but so hard to do. In detail. More detail. The more detail I write down, the more flexible I can be in my negotiation (apparently).
Step two: place an ambition on everything – in the ideal world how much lab space do I want, what equipment do I need access to, what would I like to be paid…
Step three: what are my limits? For what things is there a point at which I will stop and walk away? What is that point? Would I really walk away for one unit lower?
Step four: what other criteria don’t have limits but are ‘important’? What information would it be in my interest for the other person to know about me? (Make a list, make sure you tell them!) What questions do I have? (Questions must be facts, and can’t be negotiation points – don’t put the same thing in two places…).
Only once I know all of this can I even talk to the other side (or so I learned).
We negotiated to buy a house, a holiday, to start up a lab, to get a job. We watched each other, we gave feedback (‘I really liked… and next time I would change…’), we got stopped mid-sentence from giving abstract advice such as ‘…couldn’t she have…?’ and instead were invited to change places and have a try ourselves. It’s a bit harder when you’re sitting in the hot seat (I learned). Am I trying to negotiate? Or convince? Offer an alternative, buy, compromise or impose?
Aside from the roadmaps, the one exercise that will really stick in my mind is the one on body language:
- ‘Find a partner where each person speaks a language that the other doesn’t understand,’ we were told.
- Next, ‘relate a story to the other person about something which has an emotion involved, eg happy, sad, angry.’
- And finally, ‘Ask the other person what emotion they thought the story was about’.
Vraiment, GCSE French m’a equipé pour communiquer avec mes collègues, and astoundingly the emotion of the story was communicated absolutely perfectly, even through the struggle for scraps of vocabulary. Perhaps more interestingly, conveying emotions wasn’t just limited to communication within European languages.
My only regret is that my colleagues know what I’ve been doing. ‘What,’ I hear them thinking, ‘is she going to ask for next?’ Good question, but we also learned that there isn’t always a negotiated solution. What we can do though is try: ‘it may take two to tango, but it only needs one to lead the dance’.
Charlotte Dodson is a Research Fellow at Imperial College London. Her attendance at the course was funded by a Biochemical Society Travel Grant and her Imperial College Research Fellowship. She is assured that there are plans to run the course for all sexes in 2017.