Setting and Articulating the Goal: Great Negotiator Charlene Barshefsky Shares Her Negotiation Strategy with HLS Students

By — on / Negotiation Skills

Great Negotiator Visits Advanced Negotiations Workshop Students

Great Negotiator Award winner and former United States trade representative (1997-2001) to Japan and China, Ambassador Charlene Barshefsky visited Harvard Law School to speak with students in HLS Clinical Professor Robert Bordone‘s Advanced Negotiations Workshop course on October 3.

Barshefsky’s experiences as a trade representative to Japan and later China have informed her skillset as a negotiator, and she shared some valuable lessons she has learned while at the bargaining table.

Corporate versus Diplomatic Negotiation Styles

Ambassador Barshefsky drew a sharp distinction between diplomatic and business negotiations, stating that each required a different approach.

  • Diplomatic negotiations are often filled with constructive ambiguities
  • Corporate negotiations require negotiators to be clear and specific, always benchmarking against their goals

Setting and Articulating the Goal

Closing the trade gap between Japan and the United States, or explaining intellectual property laws to Chinese counterparts who lack a context for such laws, required Barshefsky to be focused on her goals. When recalling the Chinese trade negotiations, Barshefsky said:

“The goal tells you what you need to know. It informs who should be at the table, and which parties are extraneous… If the goal is framed too broadly, the results are likely to be ambiguous and unenforceable. If the framing promises too much, parties will walk away feeling deceived.”

This phase of “setting and articulating the goal” is key in negotiation according to Barshefsky, who spent months building relationships with her Chinese counterparts in order to learn who makes decisions and how various other peripheral players could affect agreements reached.

Professor Bordone commented on the excellent opportunity, saying:

“Ambassador Barshefsky’s stories of success and challenge as a negotiator, both while she was the U.S. trade representative and since then, brought to life some of the central themes of multiparty negotiation… Hearing her deconstruct her approach to goal-setting and preparation demonstrated the discipline and perspective taking that make for great negotiators.”


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