Ask A Negotiation Expert: The Accidental Negotiation Expert

By — on / Negotiation Skills

For 17 years, Katherine Shonk has been the editor of Negotiation Briefings. The author of two works of fiction (The Red Passport and Happy Now?), she is leaving her post after this issue to devote more time to her next novel and other editing work. Katherine will continue to share negotiation lessons in blog posts for the Program on Negotiation. Brandeis University professor Alain Lempereur, the newsletter’s academic editor, spoke with Katherine about her tenure as newsletter editor.

Alain Lempereur: You didn’t start off as a negotiation expert. How did you become someone who shares negotiation advice month after month?

Katherine Shonk: Through good luck! Back in the early 1990s, I took an administrative-support position in the Organization Behavior Department at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management so that I could enroll in fiction-writing workshops at NU in the evening at a significant discount. At Kellogg, I started providing editorial assistance to some of the professors studying negotiation and decision making, including Max H. Bazerman. I was a psychology major in college, so the topics were engaging to me and not completely foreign.

After I earned my master’s in creative writing from the University of Texas in 1999, I needed a job. Max had joined the Harvard Business School and Program on Negotiation (PON) faculty and was looking for an editor. In my first significant career negotiation, I successfully bargained to work remotely—back in the days of dial-up Internet—from the Chicago area, where I’m from. In 2003, PON hired me to edit Negotiation Briefings. I still edit for Max and for other professors. And I’ve worked remotely all these years.

AL: So, you learned about negotiation along the way?

KS: Yes, from editing books and research articles, asking questions when I didn’t understand, and reading foundational books, like Getting to Yes. As newsletter editor, I have kept up with the latest research and writing on negotiation, while staying on top of negotiations in the news. As a storyteller, I love researching complex negotiation stories, extracting useful lessons, and trying to share it all in an engaging way.

AL: Do you use your knowledge of negotiation in your daily life?

KS: I do notice opportunities for negotiation that I wouldn’t have noticed years ago, and I push myself to seize them. Negotiation research shows that women, in particular, are often uncomfortable advocating for themselves. I like to think that when I negotiate assertively for what I want or need, I’m not only benefiting myself but also contributing in a small way to changing societal norms around what is appropriate for women to ask for. I also try to encourage friends and family to negotiate for what they want rather than just accepting what they’re offered.

AL: You are very attentive to the world out there. What negotiation theories do you think professionals can leverage more often in their daily lives?

KS: I’ve written this over and over, but it bears repeating: We’ll move closer to our own goals when we try to help the other side meet theirs as well. Claiming value is important in negotiation, but as we’ve seen in recent years, negotiators who refuse to collaborate usually get terrible deals, whether they’re aware of it or not.

I also think we can all benefit from focusing on the ethical component of negotiation— “responsible negotiation,” as you call it. When negotiating, we need to consider how our decisions will affect people who aren’t at the table, Max has taught me. As we see every day in the news, people don’t do this naturally.

AL: What topics do you think deserve more attention in negotiation theory and research?

KS: I hope the Black Lives Matter movement will prompt more universities to accept PhD students and hire professors who are interested in researching and writing about the role of race in negotiation. We have a lot to learn about how bias and prejudice affect negotiation, and how organizations can become more diverse, equitable, and inclusive. The burden shouldn’t be on people of color to negotiate effectively within biased systems.

We also need more practical, research- based advice for bridging our political, cultural, and class divides, which have become quite terrifying lately. We are starting to see more of this work, and

AL: Any final words?

KS: I’m so grateful to everyone at PON and on the newsletter team for their support, hard work, and creative thinking over the years. Many thanks to you, Alain, and to Susan Hackley (who reviewed every issue and caught lots of typos), James Kerwin, Guhan Subramanian, Kristy Hanstad, Gail Odeneal, Kathy Thorne, and our wonderful graphic designer, Becky Hunter. Thanks to all at BMD for their help. A special shout- out to Melissa Snyder, our eagle-eyed proofreader since the beginning: I don’t know what I would have done without you, Melissa!

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