Here we are – a group of forty educators from different school boards across Ontario at the Tangerine Centre in Toronto to spend two days with Ann Frost, Associate Professor at the Ivey School of Business to learn about Leadership as Influence with a focus on negotiations.
Ann begins by sharing the definition of negotiation and refers to it as an art and a science. As I ponder over this, I realize how true this is. While negotiation is about the issues, positions, facts and background information, it is also about identifying the strategy and formulating good interaction between people based on respect, collaboration and interests.
Two days of interactive learning whizzed by and it was one of the rare times, when one felt the program came to an end too quickly. Some of the mantras that we, as educators, use on a daily basis ‘Engage your learners! Make learning visible! Hands on learning!’ came alive in Ann’s program. We learnt through role play and case studies. Engagement was at its helm as we strategized our aspiration point and resistance point and embraced our roles to use our influence in reaching an agreement. After each case study, Ann skillfully asked questions to make our learning visible and go deeper with our thinking. As I heard other teams respond to the questions and share their strategy and motivation, I gained rich and deep insights into divergent thinking processes.
As leaders, we are negotiating at every step, every day and every way. Some negotiations may appear small yet have a big impact; others can be multi-party ones; and very importantly, there are the ones where we are negotiating on behalf of another, for example, a student, a parent or a teacher. As an educator, the collaborative approach is more amenable than a competitive approach as relationships are at the helm of collaboration.
What also struck me was the interconnectivity of all learning. I saw facets of integrative thinking in negotiation. When Ann spoke of the importance of perspective taking and separating people from the problem, I saw elements of John Oesch’s persuasion model where he speaks of valuing each person’s story and working towards the third story which leads to a new understanding.
I added a new acronym to my vocabulary – BATNA – Best Alternative to Negotiated Agreement. I thought of the times when I could have walked away from a negotiation, had I had my BATNA. As Ann wrapped up the program with a recapitulation of the take-aways, her words ‘today is tomorrow’s history’ lingered, a reminder that our ideas, strategies and actions have a long-term impact.
Rashmi Swarup is a Supervisory Officer with the York Region District School Board. She works closely with parents and the school community.