Michael A. Wheeler

MBA Class of 1952 Professor of Management Practice, Retired

Michael Wheeler has taught Negotiation in Harvard Business School's MBA program since 1993. He also has taught a wide variety of executive courses, including Strategic Negotiation, which he co-chairs with Professor James Sebenius.

He was appointed MBA Class of 1952 Professor of Management Practice in 1999. He subsequently served as faculty chair of the first year MBA program and headed the required Negotiation course.  He has also taught The Moral Leader; Leadership, Values, and Decision Making. In 2004 he received the Greenhill Award for his contributions to HBS's mission. He has also been a Visiting Professor at the Harvard Law School and the Kennedy School of Government.

Wheeler’s current research focuses on negotiation dynamics, dispute resolution, and ethics. He is the editor of the Negotiation Journal and co-director of the Negotiation Pedagogy initiative at the inter-university Program on Negotiation.

He is the author or co-author of ten books, including most recently, The Art of Negotiation: How to Improvise Agreement in a Chaotic World. Among his other books are What’s Fair? Ethics for Negotiators (with Carrie Menkel-Meadow), Business Fundamentals in Negotiation, and On Teaching Negotiation. His text Environmental Dispute Resolution (with Lawrence Bacow) won the CPR-ADR’s annual award as the best book on negotiation.

Wheeler has written numerous articles in both scholarly journals (among them, the Yale Journal of Regulation, the Harvard Negotiation Law Review, and The Journal of Applied Psychoanalytic Studies) and the public press, including The Harvard Business Review, The Atlantic Monthly, and The New York Times. He blogs about negotiation cases and issues on LinkedIn's Influencer platform. His self-assessment app--Negotiation360--will be released January 2, 2015.

He has also developed scores of negotiation exercises, cases, notes, videos, and self-assessment tools. These materials cover subjects ranging from nonverbal communication and complexity theory, to the parallels between negotiation strategy and both jazz and war-fighting. He has written extensive case studies of negotiation system design, documenting GE’s “early dispute resolution initiative” and Guinness’s process for approving acquisitions and joint ventures. With colleagues Gerald Zaltman and Kimberlyn Leary, he has investigated emotions and unconscious attitudes that people bring to the bargaining table.  With Clark Freshman he is also exploring nonverbal communication and lie detection in negotiation.

Wheeler served on board of the Consensus Building Institute from its founding in 1993 to 2014, and was chair from 2011 to 2014. He previously taught at MIT's Department of Urban Studies and Planning from 1981 to 1993, where he was Director of Research at MIT's Center for Real Estate Development. Previously he was Director of Education and Research at the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, and Professor of Law at New England Law. He has also been a Visiting Professor at the University of Colorado and the Politecnico di Torino, Italy. He has appeared extensively on public television in Boston and elsewhere.

He holds degrees from Amherst College, Boston University, and Harvard Law School, and was admitted to the Massachusetts bar in 1969. He has been a panelist for the American Arbitration Association, and has served as a mediator or arbitrator in a variety of business and regulatory disputes. He has advised corporate clients, trade organizations, and government agencies on negotiation issues in the United States and abroad.

  1. Negotiation Complexity

    by Michael A. Wheeler

    Michael Wheeler's research focuses on negotiation as a dynamic process, one in which the capacity to learn and adapt is essential. Even in seemingly simple cases, people's interests, options, and relationships can change significantly. As a result, effective strategy must focus on complex interactions among the parties themselves and changing external environments. Theory-building in this domain draws on a wide range of disciplines and fields from complexity science and military strategy, to pyschoanalysis and jazz. It focuses on critical moments in negotiation -- tipping points, if you will -- and on how improvisation advances influence the overall process.  This work is reflected in his elective MBA course, Negotiation, and his teaching in executive programs.
  2. Negotiation Ethics and Moral Decisionmaking

    by Michael A. Wheeler

    Whenever people and organizations negotiate, they implicitly decide what -- if anything -- they owe their counterparts in regard to candor, distributional fairness, and the possible use of pressure. The deals that they reach may also have impacts on stakeholders who are not at the table. Michael Wheeler and Carrie-Menkel Meadow explored such issues in their book, What's Fair? Ethics for Negotiators.

    Wheeler has also developed exercises and cases illuminating ethical issues for graduate students and corporate managers. His parallel interest in how reason, emotion, and luck influence our moral choices is reflected in The Moral Leader course which he and other colleagues teach.

  3. Mediation and Alternative Dispute Resolution

    by Michael A. Wheeler

    Disputes between organizations and among individuals are an all-too-familiar feature of modern life. Lengthy court proceedings consume resources, damage relationships, and often yield outcomes that do not fully satisfy the real needs of the litigants. As a result, there is growing interest in the appropriate use of mediation, arbitration, and other out-of-court settlement processes.

    Michael Wheeler has taught Mediation & Consensus Building the Harvard Law School. He has particular interest in innovative corporate policies and procedures that encourage early, efficient resolution of disputes between and within organizations. This includes the design of new on-line settlement systems, as well as consensus-building initiatives to resolve contentious public-policy cases.

  4. Areas of Interest

    by Michael A. Wheeler

    Primary Topics: complexity, dispute resolution, ethics, improvisation, moral leadership, negotiation, psychodynamics

    Additional Topics: alliances, cognition, conflict, creativity, crisis management, decision-making, electronic commerce, emotion, environment, interactions, law, organizational learning, partnerships, power and influence, relationships, systems design, teams

    Industries: arts, construction, e-commerce industry, energy, federal government, internet, law, nonprofit industry, pharmaceuticals, publishing industry, real estate, service industry, sports, state government, utilities

    Geographical Areas: Canada, Italy, North America, United Kingdom, United States