Negotiation Skills


Last week a Masters student in Technology Management at Bath University was gaoled for a year following a misunderstanding with his professor.

With a mark on his dissertation of 37%, but requiring a pass mark of 40%, he decided to visit his professor with £5000 in cash and a pistol. This negotiation did not go well.

As a practical negotiation exercise the student probably deserved to pass: he was combining a clear mixed strategy of rewards and sanctions, allied with a clear message of what he wanted from the negotiation. However,  to gain a first class mark in a negotiation class he should have made clear that this would be his endgame strategy: a lecturer aware that a student might visit them in future with a pistol might, on careful reflection, have been able to find the extra three percent to pass the dissertation. Pulling out a drastic, unexpected endgame tactic is rarely an effective negotiation strategy.

One cannot help but think that this student does not deserve a management degree. A rational student lacking ethics would have been looking ahead and realised that spending £2000 to have an unemployed ex-MBA to beautify their dissertation prior to submission would be a less risky strategy than resorting to dumping £5000 on their professor’s desk while carrying a pistol. The co-production of dissertations is hard to spot as it can always be defended as just being proof-reading.

The student probably did not meet the ethical standards expected from a graduate of a leading business school or even Bath, especially because he turned down the suggestion that he could resubmit or appeal the mark with the observation “I am a businessman”. As with the current episodes of The Apprentice, this attitude of Machiavellian corporate social irresponsibility equates business with consequential malfeasance. Even with the reprehensibility of his conduct, he may still feel unlucky to have been convicted. Some jurors may have thought that academics, with their whining about their conditions and psychological neediness to be liked by students are subconsciously inviting bribery and threats, but it does not matter what they say, how they behave, how they dress, professors should not be bribed or threatened. Students should realise that when they ask whether their coursework has passed, that “no” means “no”.



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