West Point Negotiations Project hosts workshop, focuses on relationship building

Story by Michelle Eberhart, Assistant Editor, and Class of 2018 Cadet Marcos Arroyo

April 27th, 2017 | News, News and Features
A Naval Midshipman and an ROTC cadet listen to a speaker during the eighth annual West Point Neotiations Project workshop April 13. This year’s conference included cadets and midshipmen from 12 military academies and ROTC programs along the east coast. Photo by Michelle Eberhart/PV
Maj. Tim McDonald, director of the West Point Negotiations Project, discusses negotiations tactics during the eighth annual WPNP workshop.   Photo by Michelle Eberhart/PV

The West Point Negotiations Project hosted its eighth annual workshop April 13-14 in the Jefferson Library Haig Room. This year’s conference included cadets and midshipmen from 12 military academies and ROTC programs along the east coast.

WPNP is an initiative through the West Point Leadership Development Center within the Department of Behavior Sciences and Leadership. This two-day workshop was started in an attempt to bring our nation’s future leaders together to equip them with a set of basic and vital negotiation skills that may prove very useful in their careers as officers and out of the military, as civilians.

Director of the WPNP, Maj. Tim McDonald, believes strongly in this mission statement, and is well-versed in the practice of principled negotiations. During this workshop, he led the group through the introduction of principled negotiations, encouraging the participants to challenge their own assumptions about negotiations, learn the seven elements of principled negotiation (relationship, communication, interest, option, legitimacy, alternative and commitment), develop a systematic measure of success, and learn how to apply principled negotiations to real world scenarios.

The information gained during this workshop is a two-day condensed version of the semester long Negotiations course taught through the BS&L Department during the regular school year.

All the information the students learn during this workshop will allow them to become better, more effective negotiators.

“They are learning about the principled negotiation framework and we’re contrasting that with other systems of negotiations like haggling or positional bargaining,” McDonald explained. “So we try to make them aware of some of the assumptions they have about negotiations going in, which informs how you choose to negotiate.”

Throughout the course of the workshop, students were given skills that allowed them to create relationships with those they were negotiating with. In turn, they built a rapport, communicated clearly, rejected some common assumptions, and then came to an understanding of their counterparts’ interests.

“You need to have a good relationship,” McDonald emphasized. “Think about working something out with your best friend or roommate, you have a good relationship so you just tackle the problem together.”

In addition, McDonald stressed the vital utility of these skills for the workshop’s participants.

“For future officers, I think it’s important because they’re going to be working with noncommissioned officers and Soldiers where they can’t just always tell them what to do and expect it to be done. They’ve got to try to solve a problem with their subordinate units or other units that are supporting you,” he said. “They got to try to figure out how to get what the U.S. Army is asking them to do, in a very good way, while simultaneously building a relationship.”

Throughout the workshop, participants were instructed through a series of exercises and role-playing scenarios, as well as real-world stories told by guest speakers and panel guests that transcend the workshop past simply informational lectures to an interactive transformational leadership and skill development experience.

Cadet David Santos, a member of WPNP, agrees on the practicality of the skills learned here.

“At West Point we focus on leadership, we focus on preparing leaders, and one of the biggest skillsets that a leader needs is the ability to communicate, to be able to communicate effectively,” he said. “We call it a negotiation but really it’s about communicating with another person, building that relationship and ultimately, not just gaining your interests, but gaining interests on both sides to continue to further cultivate that relationship and growth.”

Santos joined WPNP as a plebe and believes that he will use the skills that he’s learned throughout the rest of his life, and he feels confident that the cohort of participants will feel the same at the conclusion of this workshop.

University of Virginia ROTC Cadet Ross Johndrow said he will use the steps and sequences to work a negotiation back to Virginia with him.

“I think it’s important because you’re going to be negotiating in all walks of life, throughout your life,” he said. “You can’t just walk in to a superior’s office and demand something of them and expect to get it. You have to explain your position, understand theirs and hope to come to a situation that satisfies both of your interests. Sometimes you can and sometimes you can’t, but I think this workshop is going to help us get to a positive outcome more frequently.”

By the workshop’s conclusion, the participants were equipped with a new skill set of principled negotiations added to their repertoire. The workshop aims to endow participants with a solid foundation of this skill in which they can further apply, develop and refine as they progress in their career as future officers and world leaders. Cadets and officers interested in learning more about the West Point Negotiation Project are encouraged to visit their website at www.westpoint.edu/wpnp.