Negotiation is not about winners or losers, playing tough or misleading. It is about seeking a deal where everyone can benefit. In this episode we learn how to become better negotiators from Diana Buttu, a lawyer specializing in negotiations,...
Negotiation is not about winners or losers, playing tough or misleading. It is about seeking a deal where everyone can benefit. In this episode we learn how to become better negotiators from Diana Buttu, a lawyer specializing in negotiations, international law, and international human rights law. Buttu worked as a negotiator on the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, serving as the only female negotiator during her five-year tenure. She also currently teaches at the Harvard Extension School.
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Yadi Caro: Thank you so much again. And I wanted to ask you Diana about your career in negotiation and conflict. And first of all, I wanted to know a little bit about your background. So why did you choose a career in law?
Dian Buttu: That's a really good question and it's a long answer. Um, so when I when I was young, I was a teenager and I came to visit the occupied Palestinian Territories, my parents are Palestinian, but I was born and raised in Canada. And at the time that I arrived was, the first Palestinian uprising known as the Intifada. And I saw kids who were, you know, my age, a little bit older who were confronting with stones, the Israeli army. Those images really moved me, particularly because I didn't know what the issue was about. I didn't know what, , why using stones and why the response was so violent, um, with the Israeli army shooting them, like none of it, you know, I was a teenager, so none of it really made sense to me.
And I was also very naive and very ignorant because I hadn't read, I hadn't exposed myself. I was raised in Canada. So all of that seemed to be very other-worldly. It was all very distant and immediately after spending some time here, which is now my home, I was very moved by those images and I thought to myself, you know, Palestinians don't need more doctors because that's what I originally wanted to be.
But they probably do need somebody who will be able to defend them. And so that was the original impetus for going into law was that I wanted to work as a human rights lawyer and I wanted to work not just on the issue of Palestinians, but human rights in general and a few short years after this one visit, I found myself not only in law school, but this was at a time when the Israeli Palestinian negotiations had begun. And, so I found myself instead wanting to focus on so many other issues and not necessarily on, on this issue. And that's what led me into conflict resolution.
YC: And when you got into that field of conflict resolution, what were some of the challenges that you've encountered, as you started exercising and practicing in that field?
DB: lots of challenges. And there were different challenges that were geographical or cultural, but the overall or the overwhelming, I would say challenge was that, um, people spend a lot of time preparing to speak, but they don't spend a lot of time wanting to listen. And listening is really a, a skill that has to be developed and nurtured. It's not a muscle, but I liken it to a muscle. You have to work it out. And so I found that in conflict resolution, a lot of people would, they would say that they wanted to be involved in conflict resolution, but all that they really wanted to do was they wanted to nod their head or shake their head, wait for that, uncomfortable break and then say whatever it is that they wanted to say.
So across the board, whether it was in the United States, in Canada, or here in, um, in the West Bank and Gaza strip or in Israel, or in different places that I've lived in or worked in around the world that tends to be the common trait, which is that people like to speak, but they don't necessarily like to listen.
So that's one issue. The other, like kind of challenged that I found is that = you may have experienced in my classes, that I do believe that people want to speak, that they have a right to speak and everybody shares that belief. There’s oftentimes, a belief in conflict resolution that, that people shouldn't be allowed to speak or that speech should be limited. And, and that's just, unfortunately not my style.
YC: When you, um, started exercising, practicing in this field, and something actually that you have taught in class was that the comp negotiation and conflict resolution overall was something that wasn't emphasized or taught. Were you taught in, in conflict resolution or a negotiation, um, before, when you started exercising, uh, practicing in the field?
DB: I did, but it was through, did go through training, but that was because I sought it out. Not because it was mandatory. So I'll give you some examples. Um, I graduated from law school. I did a master's degree in law. I did a second master's degree in law. I worked in legal practice, private, and then I worked in a practice as well. This is all before moving here to moving here to the Middle East. And in all of those places there, there was nothing that was mandatory about conflict resolution, about the study of conflict resolution. It was all optional. So I could actually take a course in law school when I did my law degree, my two master's degrees, my business degree, everything was always optional. And the problem with that is that in laws, so much of law requires some level of conflict resolution and some level of negotiation.
And so much of business requires the same as well. I mean, there were at least in the world that I know there's some that doesn't, but it's just, I think, a good skill that we should use. So for example, when I was doing my MBA, it was mandatory for us to learn the ins and outs of accounting principles, which I have never used since the day that I was in my MBA. And yet it wasn't mandatory for us to take a course in negotiation or conflict resolution, which I'm pretty sure everybody has used at some point in time in their lives.
YC: Yeah. And something I really loved about your class was that it was less theory and a lot of focus on actually negotiating in class. We had so many scenes of negotiation in the class. And there were a lot of misconceptions, but I want you to give us an idea of how, what are some of the misconceptions that as you see students in coming in to take the class in terms of what negotiation is?
DB: Oh, sure. Um, there's so many. so one of the major misconceptions about the class is that, uh, or about negotiations in general is that you really need to be tough or strong, um, that you, that you need to be dishonest, that you need to hold back information, um, that you need to be very, um, what's the word I'm looking for? Like, you need to be very unscrupulous in your approach. So many of them, Yadi, I know that during the Trump era, it's now come to an end, um, many of the students, um, whether they want to, or don't want to think that that's a model to be emulated, uh, that, you know, that Trump era of being tough of being, um, unrelenting, of hiding information of, uh, sometimes being, dishonest or all of that stuff. So that was one major misconception. And for the first half of the course, I still see students that, that continue to believe that the harder they are, the better they will be. And it's only with time that they begin to realize that that is not the way of doing things. Um, it's only with time, so that's one major misconception.
The other major misconception is that everything is going to be, there is going to be a winner and a loser in negotiations, so that this follows from the first type, which is that you have to be tough and because you have to be tough there's. So there's only going to be one winner and one loser. And so that's another major misconception.
A third major misconception is that you have to be a totally different person than who you are. And I was trying to teach my students that you have to kind of be true to yourself. I like, in the course, I don't say this at the beginning of the course, but at the end of the course, I try to get people to see that the courses aren't going to change who you are. And the key is to really just build upon who you are and, learn those skills. So rather than trying to transform yourself completely and say, that's it from now on, I'm going to be X. I always say we're all pretty good. We're born as good people. So those are some of the major misconceptions that are at least three of the major conception. There's many more, but those are three of them.
YC: Yes. Another key thing that what I learned in class as well was when you come into a negotiation, seeing the perspective from the other party. Could you talk a little bit about that? Because that was very amazing to me to understand that I will come to a negotiation just knowing or what I have to request for and ask for, and I will win, but seeing, putting yourself in the shoes of the other side.
DB: Yes. So another one of the big problems that we face is that oftentimes when you go into a negotiation, you're so myopically focused on what it is that you want. And you know, you lay out all of the arguments, you prepare them. That's if you've prepared them, the vast majority of people don't prepare. So that's one of the things that I try to get you to learn throughout the course is the need to prepare. But, um, in preparing, oftentimes people just focus as I said, myopically on what it is that they want and not really thinking about, well, what could the other side be also looking for? What could they be thinking of? And so one of the, um, one of the cases that I teach, it's a very simple case. It's about a property issue. One, one party wants to buy a piece of property, the other party is looking to sell this piece of property. And if you only focus on yourself, then the likelihood is that you're not going to really walk away with a decent deal.
But if you spend the time thinking about what the other side could potentially be wanting and doing your homework and asking the diagnostic questions about what needs to be asked, then you will likely end up with a much better outcome. And this is, again, one of those examples where it teaches you that the issue isn't about being tough or about being dishonest. It's really a question of learning the questions that need to be asked and, and learning some of the, some of the different skills that come along with teaching negotiations.
YC: Another thing too, that I'm also asked is about, uh, any differences in gender or even cultural as well, because another of the things that we've learned and that made it easy for myself, for example, when I was in a negotiation scenario was to, kind of negotiate on behalf of others. And that seemed, that was something that was easier for women to do. Are there any particular differences that you have seen, through your practice in either gender or even cultural as well?
YC: Uh, yes. So, you know, women are fantastic negotiators and it's By and large. I'm very much generalizing here, so pardon me for generalizing. Women tend to be really excellent negotiators and, um, and they ask the right questions. They do the right type of research. They're thinking of what the other parties could be thinking of. They're thinking about what what's the entire landscape looking like, like, not just about myself, the party, but other parties as well. They're looking at the overall situation. That said, that tends to be the case when they're negotiating for somebody and not necessarily for themselves. And, the reason I say this again, this is a generalization, is that oftentimes, , at least in the, in the areas in which I've lived, um, there tends to be a sense that women don't ask, they are told to, they're educated not to ask from a young age and as a result, women tend to shy away from asking the things that they should be asking and doing and speaking out, unless it is that they're doing it for somebody else.
So it's kind of in a sense of that, somehow we are not worthy, when in reality we really are. Here's an example, one example that you'll see oftentimes in cover letters is if you look at a man's cover level, you'll see that a man's cover letter is written in the active voice. When I was manager, I grew sales by X percentage. Whereas a women's CV will be in the passive voice. When I was in this position, revenue grew by X percent. Not that you did the growing of the revenue, that somehow it magically, you know, with your team, et cetera. And so women tend to acknowledge the, the various people that are in their teams but then tend to hide their own and downplay their own role through using the passive voice, whereas men don't.
This reflects itself very much in negotiations that, at least in my class, I've seen that there tends to be the case that if I have women representing somebody, the results are incredible, but if they're doing it for their own selves, they tend to not really be asking those questions or pushing, or, you know, even using the simple tricks that I teach.
Um, so that's when it comes to women, when it comes to cultural, cultural is hard to say, because I feel like we're in such a multicultural world. Now, there are definitely some cultural norms that would fly in some places that wouldn't fly in other places. For example, I live in the middle East now, and, um, just south of me is the, is the country of Egypt. If you go to a market in Egypt and a person asks you, if you want to buy somebody and they ask for, let's say, 10 pounds, the counter offer, you really should be counter offering and, uh, and counter offering by a prescribed amount, whereas that doesn't necessarily work at Macy's in the United States. It's just not something that is culturally there.
So there are some cultural differences, but I feel like we're in such a multicultural world now that I feel general generalizing becomes, very difficult. One thing that I do always recommend is that you work with somebody who's from that, from that culture, from that background, from that country, so that you're able to get an understand the nuanced, um, skills of different places.
YC: Thank you. This is great advice. And I certainly appreciate it. And just a couple more questions. Um, if, uh, for anybody who's listening right now, who would like to become a better negotiator and they don't have the fortune to take your class, what will you suggest? What key steps should they take now to start becoming better negotiators overall.
YC: The first is that there's a lot of really good, very simple books, um, that are out there that can easily be accessed and read. That said, I, as you know Yadi, I'm not such a fan of just reading the books, because I don't think that you can learn how to negotiate by reading a book. Just like, I don't think you can learn how to drive a manual transmission car by reading the manual. I think you have to go in and actually do it. But books are a good place to start. And the other thing that I would do is I would really, document and write down what happens in your negotiations. And I would definitely spend time preparing for negotiations. Now, all of that is a good, um, like first step. It will get you to a place where at least you're conscious of the, of the things that you're doing and be able to recognize perhaps some of the mistakes that you're making. So you know, just keeping up with, with reading, documenting what's happening and really preparing for your negotiations, I think are three very good steps.
YC: Thank you.
I must ask you, because today we focus, uh, in, in the topic of negotiation and conflict resolution from the perspective of practicing, but usually we would see you in the news talking to CNN or the New York times about different issues. what are some of the major things, what are you working on right now? If you could give us some insights on, what aside from are you teaching the class and also what other major things are you working on right now when it comes to your regular life?
DB: Yeah. Um, I'm working on a few things. So, uh, one thing is that I will be teaching two courses this term, uh, one in negotiations and the other is in international human rights law. And both of them, I really enjoy teaching. So I'm looking forward to doing that. Um, the second is I'm doing a lot of writing. I'm in the process of, of thinking of how to write a book on negotiations and also writing a book on my experience. That's taking a little bit of time. The other major project that I'm working has really nothing to do with, conflict resolution and everything to do with conflict resolution at the same time, which is I'm working on a project that is focused on trying to modernize or not, not in a technical sense, but in a, in a practical sense, um, the court system that exists here.
Um, so just to give you some background, the court system here in the West Bank is, um, is a relatively new one, but it doesn't have the mechanisms that other places around the world have enforce judgments. And so, so many judgements end up just sitting there waiting. So you can have a perfect judgment, but there's no way of collecting. And as a result, people have now turned into wards, more conflict resolution, but conflict resolution in a way that is actually disadvantageous to women and to children. And because it's done mostly through men, to men decisions, family, to family decisions and not necessarily taking into account the needs of women, the rights of women and so on. So this has been a long term project now that I'm hoping will see some light, uh, very soon in the, in the coming months of coming up with new ways of trying to address this, uh, this very broken system. Yeah.
YC: That is fascinating. And I admire the work that you, that you do. And it's always fascinating to see, um, what you're working on. So I certainly appreciate that you have taken the time today to talk and give us some feedback about how to become better at negotiation resolution. So I appreciate your time. Thank you so much.
DB: Thank you. Thank you very much.