Negotiate 1-2-3

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Learning Objectives Est. time: 25 min.

  • Examining how power is used, deflected, and redefined during negotiation
  • Exploring the challenges of negotiating with colleagues and superiors in an organization
  • Seeing ways in which gender influences the negotiation process

How you can participate

  • Use the comment tool at the end of the module to add your insights and questions
  • Engage with fellow learners and share your best practices
  • Check regularly for comments from the creators of Negotiate 1-2-3


In this module you will analyze video clips of a negotiation in which a manager is seeking a promotion and the raise that would go with it. She believes both are overdue, given that she has successfully taken on new responsibilities in her company. At various points you will have the opportunity to analyze the challenges she faces and then assess how well she manages the negotiation. You'll also see how other viewers have responded to the same questions.

You can work through this module in twenty-five minutes, if you move briskly. You will learn even more if you take time to answer the questions thoughtfully. Likewise, watching each of the clips a second time will give you deeper insight into interpersonal dynamics and how power is transacted in negotiation. You may learn even more if you go through this module with a friend or colleague, so you can compare impressions.

The case and accompanying video was developed by Deborah Kolb, Professor Emerita at Simmons College, whose generosity in allowing its use here is deeply appreciated.

Caitlin's Challenge

Here is some background about the situation. For the last five years, Caitlin Elliott has been the Director of Client Relations at MI, Microenterprises Incorporated. In that role, she's been responsible for managing and servicing current clients, as well as identifying account expansion opportunities.

A still shot of Caitlin leaning towards the camera, taken from the videos
Caitlin Elliott, seeking promotion

Caitlin has earned a solid reputation as a personable, innovative leader who manages well, sells well, and does whatever it takes to make the organization successful. In her performance review nearly a year ago her boss, George Baker, commended her work. But when she asked about her prospects for promotion, he was vague and simply advised her to be patient, as she needed to gain more experience.

Three months ago, Martin Block, former MI Vice President for Client Advisory Services (CAS), left the company. In that role, Martin had managed MI's large consulting engagements, bringing in new business, and assigning a consulting team based on his clients' needs. Since Martin left, Caitlin has been unofficially filling in for him in addition to performing her own Director responsibilities. As a result, she has been putting in 80-hour weeks. This past month, Caitlin brought in a major new client to Advisory Services, which will result in a revenue increase of at least ten percent for MI over their previous year's earnings.

Caitlin has decided that she wants Martin's old job—VP of CAS. She has prepared a summary report on the work she has been doing as the unofficial acting VP, listing revenues generated and increases in client activity, as well as changes she recommends based on her assessment of what MI needs to do to move CAS forward. She sent the summary last week to George Baker, Executive Vice President of MI, and then set up a meeting with him to make her bid for the VP position.

Now let's take a look at the opening moments of Caitlin's meeting with George.

Click to view Transcription

George seems reasonably pleasant, but distracted. Caitlin has to remind him that they have a meeting today. And apparently he hasn't had time to read the memo that she sent him. But he does compliment her and says that he is very pleased with the terrific job she is doing as a director. How do you interpret his behavior?

Click to view Transcription

Click for Analysis

From here we'll pick up the pace. Some of the clips (including the one you just watched) will have a single set of questions to consider; others have none. But for all of them we encourage you to think carefully about what you observe. Specifically:

  • Focus on the interaction between Caitlin and George, how each responds to the other and how the negotiation takes shape.
  • Pay attention to the subtext, the unspoken issues that the parties are dealing with implicitly.
  • Consider the tactical choices that Caitlin must make (what she must do or say next) and how that advances her strategy more generally.

In this second clip you see that Caitlin decided to continue the discussion, even though George seems neither prepared nor particularly interested in promoting her. Some viewers say this is a mistake; in their opinion, she should reschedule the meeting after he has had a chance to read her memo. Others strongly disagree; they think that George is deliberately brushing Caitlin off. After all, he treated her much like this in her prior performance review.

Whichever option you favored likely depends on how you interpreted George's behavior in the activity above. In classroom discussion it's interesting—and instructive—to hear how passionately people argue their conflicting views. Even if you knew exactly what George was thinking, your opinion about what Caitlin should do next might strongly differ from those of other viewers. Certainly some would agree with you, but just as surely, others would strongly challenge your conclusion.

Real life is more complicated. Reading other people's feelings and intentions is hard. Maybe George's early compliments about Caitlin's performance were sincere. Then again, maybe they were a cynical attempt to placate her. Caitlin cannot know for sure, yet she must respond. Her decision to pursue the conversation, at least a little longer, seems wise. Perhaps she can make some headway. If not, she still has the option of asking to reschedule the meeting.

As you also may have noted, Caitlin continues to be proactive. She doesn't merely wait for something to happen. She keeps her poise and isn't shy about shaping the conversation. Recall this brief exchange at the beginning.

  • Caitlin: What I wanted to say, George, is that I think it's time I was recognized for my work here.
  • George: You are recognized. You bring a lot to this company. Keep up the great work!
  • Caitlin: Thank you. That's not the kind of recognition I mean.

Caitlin's response is both polite and firm. She has to be respectful—she's negotiating with her boss, after all—but she doesn't seem intimidated. Deborah Kolb and Jessica Porter call her response a "correcting move." To get the promotion and raise she is seeking, she needs to keep the conversation on the right track.

The stakes get higher at the end of the clip when George dismisses her argument about landing an important new client.

  • George: I’m glad that Salloway and Diamant are on board, but you just closed a deal that Marty had in the pipeline already.

This is a double-barreled insult. It disparages her contribution and also puts her in her place. Only a boss can use that dismissive tone.

Caitlin remains calm in spite of George's insult, but corrects his statement. Here's full the transcript of this short exchange.

Click to view Transcription

Click for Analysis

Caitlin understandably feels she must correct George, but notice how she takes care not to personalize the issue. She starts by acknowledging that he may not know the full extent of everything she did to land the new client, but fortunately she has documented each step in detail. It seems like she has really done her homework, lining up colleagues who are willing to vouch for her performance. If you have time, it's worth taking a look again at how deftly she does this. She is confident but not aggressive.

But having dealt with one challenge, Caitlin immediately has to cope with another: George's invocation of precedent and company policy to thwart her request for a bonus. In the introduction to this module you read about the "expect-a-no" mantra. It wouldn't have taken much forethought on Caitlin's part to anticipate this tactic. Still, the question is how best to respond.

Click to view Transcription

Click for Analysis

Here Caitlin turns the tables by asking what George would do if he were in her shoes. Rather than talking about the pros and cons of the policy, she is trying to introduce a relational element. She does not say that policy is unfair or unwise, as those are provocative words. Rather than debating substance, asking someone to look at an issue from a different perspective can be more persuasive.

There are two other things Caitlin might have said in response to George's "company policy" line. One would be to help George construct a strong argument that her situation is unique, so he won't have everyone else "clamoring for a bonus," to use his phrase. If he is genuinely concerned about setting a precedent, she has to provide a solution that qualifies her as an exception to the rule. Alternatively, she could characterize his perceived problem as an opportunity by saying something like, "It's unlikely anyone else is going to be able to land as big a client as I just did—but if that happened, wouldn't that be great for the company!"

If Caitlin had given it much thought, she could have anticipated this tactic and considered these options (and more). When something unexpected happens, though, negotiators have to be quick on their feet. Being quick on your feet requires being both calm and alert—the former so you don't overreact; the latter in order to pick up subtle changes in the relational atmosphere.

As negotiations wear on, it's easy to lose your focus, especially when things aren't going so well. It appears that that's what’s happening here, in spite Caitlin's best efforts. As soon as she deals with one objection to her promotion, George throws out another one. He tells Caitlin that she's "not ready for the VP job." And he says it twice to make sure she gets the message. When she counters that she has serious responsibilities as a director, George flatly disagrees, saying, "It's not the same thing," perhaps with the hope of ending the meeting.

This is a critical moment in the process, especially given that he has just said she "got lucky" landing the new client. We'll look at two different ways the negotiation could go at this point. Feel free to watch the video clips again or review the transcript.

If you're ready to move ahead and want to see different paths this negotiation could take at this point, watch the next clip.

Click to view Transcription

Click for Analysis

In this version Caitlin draws a line in the sand. More specifically, she deepens the line that George laid out. This could easily happen if Caitlin were unable to manage her frustration, though nothing good could come of it.

When she says, "It sounds like we're at an impasse. I want the position, and you don't think I am ready for it." George certainly won't contradict that conclusion. This response doesn't give him any reason to change his mind. To make things worse, it signals her anger and may stress her relationship with her boss. Take a quick look at the clip again and think about how you would feel if you were in George's shoes.

Okay. Now for a very different approach on Caitlin's part. Let's watch the next clip, picking up again on what George says about the VP role.

Click to view Transcription

Click for Analysis

In this version Caitlin somehow manages to maintain her composure. She apparently chooses not to challenge George on how he implicitly characterized an ideal VP as being a man. (See the second sentence in George’s opening statement about a VP being “tough with his own people.”) Finding a constructive way of raising that issue would undoubtedly be a challenge.

Instead, she deftly uses the "yes, and" technique of improv acting. Rather than disputing George's assertion that the Director and VP roles are fundamentally different, she accepts that premise and builds on it. (Once again, she wisely avoids battles that she cannot win.) Specifically, she acknowledges what she would still have to learn in the new position and adds, "I would look to you to mentor me through it."

George smiles and shakes his head in admiration: "You're good, Caitlin, there's no question about that." Her manner—polite but persistent—reflects traits that would serve her well in a senior position. It's almost as if the meeting is itself an audition for the job.

But George's skepticism shows when he adds, "But, why should I make somebody VP whose hand I've got to hold, when I can go out into this market and find somebody with experience, who can come in as VP and hit the ground running?"

Now let's consider another possible response that Caitlin could have made to her supervisor:

Click to view Transcription

Click for Analysis

In this alternative version Caitlin doesn't make the mistake of painting George into a corner. After all, it's in her interest to make it easier for him to say yes to her request. (Bill Ury, author of Getting Past No, calls this technique building a golden bridge that allows one's counterpart to move toward agreement.)

Once again she does a "yes, and" by acknowledging that hiring an outsider might be tempting, but then trumpets the importance of relationships in her firm—relationships with both clients and colleagues. It's an important point. George nods in agreement and says, "Interesting . . . interesting." Then Caitlin goes on to propose that she take on the VP job for three months on a pilot basis, with a stipulated review process to follow. George says he'll think about it.

Timing is important in any negotiation. Caitlin could have made the relational point when she first expressed interest in the VP job. She also might have noted her willingness to take the job on a provisional basis. But she wisely waited until George expressed his specific concerns before she offered her solutions to them.

But George still hasn't made any commitments. What does she need to do next? Think about that for a moment and then watch the next video clip.

Click to view Transcription

Click for Analysis

Caitlin doesn't demand a firm yes (or no) from George at this point. Whether to do so is a subjective judgment. She has made considerable progress, but realizes that George may not have fully caught up with her proposal. She's significantly confident about her justifications that she's prepared to let George think them through.

Nevertheless she presses hard for a follow-up meeting early the next week. She doesn't want to lose the ground she has already gained. It will be hard for George to refuse to meet with her. If his Tuesday is already booked, there should be time soon after. And at that point, Caitlin can try to close the deal.

In the meantime George can reflect on his options. Even if he still has doubts about whether Caitlin is quite ready to move up, he may nevertheless conclude that the safer bet is choosing her instead of an outsider who does not know the firm.

When Caitlin and George meet again, they both will have to clarify what his mentoring will entail and what performance criteria would be appropriate for deciding whether her provisional appointment should be made permanent. It's important that their expectations be aligned. At this point, though, their conversation will become less of a negotiation and more a matter of joint problem solving.


You saw this story unfold in stops and starts, with breaks for analysis between each clip. The video takes only six minutes, but much changes in this short time. When the video begins, George is distracted and opposed to giving Caitlin a promotion. When it ends, he is thoughtful and engaged. He is looking at Caitlin's situation in a way that is much more favorable to her.

Although the substance of the conversation is about her performance and her suitability for being a Vice President, below the surface lots more is going on. Caitlin is also engaged in what Kolb and Powell call a "shadow negotiation" about status and power. She has to respect boundaries as she is dealing with her boss, but time and time again, she is able to turn the conversation to her advantage—all without disrespecting George.

Research on various methods of teaching negotiation (through lectures or simulations, for example), suggest that the most powerful vehicle is observation—watching others use best practices in order to advance their interests. We hope that the material in this module will enable you to use moves and turns to engage others constructively in negotiations. Just as important, we hope the experience has also sharpened your perception of the dance of negotiation, the interaction of parties, how each person's behavior sets the stage for what the other does next.


Deborah Kolb and Jessica Porter, Negotiating at Work, Jossey-Bass, 2016.

Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen, Thanks for the Feedback. Penguin Books, 2015.

William Ury, Getting Past No, Bantam, 1993.

Michael Wheeler, The Art of Negotiation, Simon & Schuster, 2013.

Next Module: Ultimatums [20 min.]

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