HBS Negotiations Course Comes Online

Students at Harvard Business School’s 2016 graduation


They are also revealed in a linear process. Part of this design includes “pathing,” Mullane says, where students split off into different personas. “For example, you could have a buyer and a seller situation in a negotiation. Each of them has different information so they can play their respective positions.” In other words, like a case, students must interpret situations based on the narrative and data in front of them. However, the case method veers into the experiential realm when students actually take specific actions instead of just discussing them in a class full of peers. In the process, they learn, by experience and example, what works and what doesn’t.

Aside from learning from peers and case protagonists, the course boasts an army of Harvard faculty and industry experts who provide further guidance on interpersonal dynamics and analytical strategies in negotiation. This is also a departure from a traditional Harvard Business School classroom, Wheeler says, where a single faculty member facilitates class discussion. Instead, the course includes seven professors from HBS — including Deepak Malhotra, Jim Sebenius, and Francesca Gino — along with a senior lecturer from the Harvard Kennedy Center. The reason? Wheeler hopes to minimize discipline bias and provide a greater breadth and depth of insight to further enrich the course experience.

“We have a Negotiations, Organization, & Markets Department at HBS. We have decision analysts, lawyers, microeconomists, behavioral psychologists, and organizational behavior types. When any of those people teach a course, they represent their orientation. In this course, we have appearances by my colleagues, speaking about examples and principles that are within their expertise. I am the master of ceremonies — and I have a conspicuous place in the course — but I don’t have to tell students what someone like Max Bazerman found in his research. They can describe that themselves in a much more compelling and forceful way.”


Chris Voss, former FBI negotiator

But Wheeler was also determined to bridge theory and practice, so he recruited a dozen accomplished negotiators from very different functional and industry backgrounds. In the process, he sent film crews to locations like London and Florence to interview experts as diverse as Mike McIlwrath, global chief counsel for GE Oil and Gas; Ric Lewis, chief executive of Tristan Capital Partners; Elizabeth Broun, director of the Smithsonian American Art Museum; and Amy Chu, founder of Alpha Girl Comics.

For Wheeler, one of the long-lasting benefits of including such experts is the examples and best practices that they share. “I’m a firm believer that stories have a great deal of power,” Wheeler affirms. “They stick with us. “You get to hear very strong, compelling voices, real giants on the academic and practitioner sides.” That provides a unique feature to the online course that the brick-and-mortar classroom experience at HBS just can’t match. I would be delighted if any one of these people would drop into my MBA class. We get to learn from a dozen of them in HBX. This is an example of where this particular platform enables you to do things that you just couldn’t do in a traditional course.”

In many ways, he says, the experts act as cases themselves, showing students how to approach issues from very different angles. “This is an attempt to create a course that has a great deal of span,” Wheeler explains. “My hope is that people will be intrigued by hearing from Chris Voss, a former lead hostage negotiator for the FBI. There are things that he knows about dealing with emotion in negotiation that all of us can put to use.”

If “span” was Wheeler’s goal, he could certainly crow, “Mission accomplished.” The interviews list for the course includes Erin Egan, director of strategy and business development at Microsoft, who dishes out insights on how to negotiate in China to acquire tech licenses and startups. Nate Barbera and Desiree Stolar, founders of Unshrinkit, a product that re-sizes shrunken clothes, outline their experiences with getting their product to market at Amazon and Bed Bath & Beyond — along with the negotiations that took place after Mark Cuban struck a deal with them on Shark Tank. And Jim Levine, who heads the Levine Greenberg Rostan Literary Agency, discloses how he worked a $15,000 software deal into a million-dollar windfall.

“I hope the subtext here is that our students can see that the world is really a vast source of lessons in negotiation that may be far afield, but that nevertheless we can adapt to our particular industry or line of work,” Wheeler says.


A Harvard Business School case study class

Negotiation Mastery is no MOOC, however. To take the class, you have to earn your spot, which makes the peer-to-peer coaching and networking all the more valuable. Like the HBX  CORe, potential students must apply for a spot in the class, which is expected to draw “several hundred,” according to Mullane. As part of the application, students must submit their educational and professional background, answer essay questions, and complete a multiple-choice exam that measures their logical and quantitative aptitudes. In addition, applicants must either possess 10 years’ work experience or have successfully completed the HBX CORe program (though these requirements may change in future cohorts).

The course is slated to launch on February 15, 2017, and run through April 12. Applications must be received by February 1, with registration closing a week later. The cost of the program is $1,500. After successfully completing the course — which requires a minimum five-hour-a-week commitment — students will receive a Certificate of Completion from HBX and Harvard Business School, with students earning “Honors” or “High Honors” on their transcript for outstanding performance. The course is also designed for maximum flexibility. It can be accessed anytime from anywhere, using a Mac or PC connected to either Firefox or Google Chrome.

Negotiation Mastery represents Michael Wheeler’s first foray into online learning. It is an outgrowth of his increasing interest in technology. The author or co-author of 11 books and a HBS faculty member since 1993, Wheeler has taken his Negotiation 360 app, which focuses on self-assessment, into its “third life” on Android (with a fourth life soon to emerge with a web-based tool for classroom use). Wheeler admits that when the opportunity was presented to him, he was immediately intrigued by the concept of teaching an online course. “The potential reach is terrific,” he says. “I’ve taught thousands of executive and full-time MBA students over the years. You can scale this up in ways that you can’t do with on-site courses.”

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