Annual business symposium teaches the art of negotiation

Sean Lavery

When McCormick sophomores Dennis Ai and Dhrumil Mehta began planning the annual business symposium for Ayers College of Commerce and Industry, they wanted to reach out to students outside of their typical CCI audience.

“We’re really glad that we got people across disciplines to come to the CCI event,” Mehta said. “This was our one signature event for our res college all year that we invite people to see what CCI is all about.”

Ai said CCI decided to focus on the “Art of Negotiation” because it appeals to everyone. He explained the focus was on broadening the target audience beyond those who were only interested in business.

The event, which filled the McCormick Tribune Center, included a speech by Kellogg School of Management Dean Sally Blount. She began by telling the audience, “a lot of good negotiation is common sense.”

She said she believes society is better at developing technology than it is at making peace, citing this as a reason that barbaric acts of violence are still perpetrated in many parts of the world. Negotiation skills will be a critical component to reach the goal of a stable, non-violent society, she said.

“Despite the fact that we can do all of these amazing things [with technology], we cannot make sure people are fed and clothed, we cannot stop ourselves from fighting wars, we cannot stop genocide,” Blount said.

Each of the speakers stressed the importance of preparation when entering a negotiation deal, explaining that 80 percent of the process is knowing what you’re dealing with before you get to the table.

Vanessa Seiden, Kellogg ‘97and a partner at Ruda Cohen & Associates, explained that the most critical factor of negotiation is having insight into people. She said asking questions is an important step in gathering information. Seiden referenced the Chilean miner rescue effort as an example of negotiating that was likely “executed flawlessly.”

“What happened in that situation is that instead of finding what was best for the individual, they did what was best for the group,” Seiden said.

Other speakers included Carlos Escobar, a representative of Volkswagen of Mexico, and Scott Nehs, Senior Vice President of PepsiCo. Each of them expressed the idea that negotiation is becoming exceedingly important in an expanding, global society.

“Volkswagen deals with car parts from ten different countries,” Escobar said. “It’s surprising that the car even gets put together.”

He credited cooperation for his company’s success at negotiating with people from many different cultural backgrounds.

Weinberg freshman Merry Xiao said the panel spoke directly to her generation.

“I know when I was in high school, I thought my views were right, and everyone else was wrong,” Xiao said. “That’s not really true. You have to give others time to explain their viewpoint and understand that others have great ideas as well.”

Seiden commented on the broad appeal of negotiation, saying in “any discipline you’re in, there will be elements of negotiation.”

The speakers hoped the panel would encourage students to think differently about how they approach situations in everyday life.

“Negotiation can apply to your personal life, to your professional life, to wherever your future may lead you,” Seiden said. “If students can have that perspective, then they can walk away with a lot of insight into situations they wouldn’t have otherwise.”

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