Great Negotiators - Harvard Business School MBA Program

Great Negotiators

Course Number 2215

Professor James K. Sebenius
Winter; Q4; 1.5 credits
14 Session short course
Exam/paper option

Course Objectives

What can be learned from closely studying great negotiators at work? Since 2001, the Program on Negotiation-an active inter-university consortium comprised faculty from across Harvard, MIT, and Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts--has annually bestowed the "Great Negotiator Award." Over their careers, the awardees have typically negotiated against great odds in different settings to accomplish worthy purposes. By systematically probing the successes (and failures) of this distinguished group of men and women from varied backgrounds, this half-course seeks to uncover broader lessons and generalizations about effective negotiation and dispute resolution in public and private settings.

Course Content

To generate such insights, the course will initially use the "3D framework"-setup, deal design, and tactics--as the lens to closely examine important negotiations carried out by these "Great Negotiators" (and perhaps a few others who might be excellent candidates for this award). Specifically, it will analyze cases and video material from among the following: Senator George Mitchell's work in Northern Ireland leading to the Good Friday Accords; Bruce Wasserstein's dealmaking at Lazard and elsewhere; Special Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky's negotiations with China over intellectual property rights; the efforts of Lakhdar Brahimi, Special Representative of the U.N. Secretary General, to forge a post-conflict government in Afghanistan; Ambassador Richard Holbrooke's negotiations leading to the Dayton Agreement that ended the Bosnian war as well as his multiparty efforts to deal with unpaid U.S. dues to the United Nations; the Honorable Stuart Eizenstadt's negotiations over Holocaust-era assets in various European countries; U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Sadako Ogata's quiet negotiations on behalf of refugees and internally displaced persons in regions from Iraq to the Balkans to Rwanda; the complex negotiations by artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude to erect massive, controversial installations from the Running Fence in California to the Gates in Central Park, New York, and wrapping Paris's Pont Neuf and the German Reichstag; as well as former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari's negotiation efforts leading to Kosovo's independence and the resolution of a decades-long, bloody conflict between the government of Indonesia and the province of Aceh. This widely disparate set of experiences, and perhaps a few others, constitute the raw material from which generalizations will be forged about effective public and private negotiation.

Course Requirements

Beyond class participation, many students will take a written exam aimed at crystallizing key course lessons. Alternatively, with instructor approval, individual students or small groups may opt to write papers that 1) analyze one or more "great negotiators" of their choice, or 2) develop other course themes in greater depth.Caveats: while this course will expose participants to many remarkable negotiators and negotiations from which invaluable lessons can be distilled, it is unlike the basic negotiation courses in several respects that should be understood by those who choose to take the course. First, it does not systematically develop negotiation concepts, but rather, assumes the basics, then moves from case to complex case with no attempt at a cumulative intellectual approach. Second, it is not a skills development course; as such, there are no negotiation simulations. Third, while there are many powerful implications for effective business and financial negotiations, most of the cases-as detailed above-take place in public sector, international contexts. Fourth, the nature of the material often requires more background reading than is often the norm for HBS courses. Finally, while it is possible that some of the Great Negotiator Awardees will visit the class, most will not.