n-conference: Managing risks

For yet another year, Schranner Negotiation Institute hosted the N-Conference on all things negotiation. The event brought together speakers from business, law enforcement, and beyond to share their experiences with the audience.

This year’s topic was ­“Managing Risks”. In his keynote, Matthias Schranner, a former negotiator for the German police and now CEO and founder of the Schranner Negotiation Institute, said that having no alternative is the largest risk in a negotiation. To manage risks, it is important to take control. “An essential part of this process is through preparation,” says ­Schranner. The Schranner Concept is based on four fundamental principles: Preparation, Opening, Leading, and Stopping. While there are risks in each of these phases, their con­sequences vary.

Ultimately, however, risk-­taking and conflict orientation are critical for success. Part of the strategy is this exact mindset, Schranner went on to explain. The biggest mistake to be made in a negotiation situation is fear, according to Schranner – so he recommended to refrain from being fearful and instead trying to instill fear in the other party: The fear of walking away. “The way to do that is by raising the price of walking away. The question I invite you to ask yourself would be: which party benefits from a disagreement?”

Schranner, a German native, spoke about his toughest case, where the other party was not scared to walk away, as they were willing to give up their lives. Two activists had barricaded themselves in a tunnel to stop its operation. Schranner had to negotiate for them to come out. “I was trying to help someone who did not want to be helped at all.”

Such situations are where the craft of a top negotiator is really perfected. Former FBI negotiator and keynote speaker at the N-Conference Chris Voss reflected on similar moments from his career: He described a “deadlock”, meaning a situation where no evident pro­gress towards a settlement is being made. His company, the Black Swan Group, teaches salespeople how to achieve better results by negotiating better.

Prior to founding his company, Voss was the lead international kidnapping negotiator for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), as well as the FBI’s hostage negotiation representative for the National Security Council’s Hostage Working Group. During his career, he also represented the U.S. government as an expert in kidnapping at two international conferences sponsored by the G8.

Before becoming the FBI’s lead international kidnapping negotiator, Voss served as the lead Crisis Negotiator for the New York City division of the FBI. He was a member of the New York City Joint Terrorist Task Force for 14 years. He also negotiated the surrender of the first hostage taker to give up in the Chase Manhattan Bank robbery in 1993. From teaching others how to be a strong negotiator, he knows that “everyone can learn how to be a good negotiator.” Still, in his speech he opened up about using certain tactics familiar to him: “I am using my Late night DJ Voice when talking to someone in a heightened state of emotions, for example on the phone with a hostage taker. It is a very calm voice and it can calm the other person down so that they do not feel backed into a corner.”

We were basically a bunch of kids on the team, but I wanted a young team familiar with the matter of the Me Too movement.

Camille Vasquez

While both Schranner and Voss have had impressive careers, the most prominent guest and speaker was Camille Vasquez, an American lawyer and legal counsel of Hollywood actor Johnny Depp in his case against his ex-wife, actress Amber Heard. The accusations in the case were abuse and domestic violence; Depp was later acquitted.

The trial gained a lot of attention from the public as it was filmed and broadcasted. More than 500 million people watched the defamation trial, which was streamed by the Law and Crime network on its Youtube channel. While it was the court’s decision for it to be a public trial, Depp wanted the cameras, too. Vasquez explained that he was looking for transparency. And since Vasquez was in every shot capturing Johnny Depp, she gained some prominence herself.

Chris Voss (left) and Matthias Schranner gave key notes.

But this was also due to her expertise. She had some outstanding moments examining Amber Heard and was dubbed the “Queen of cross examination”. She explained to Forbes that she compensated her nervousness with overpreparation. “I knew all the materials inside out. Overpreparation would always be my advice to someone who’s nervous.” On top of this being her first public case, the team she had assembled at the law firm Brown & Rudnick was young and inexperienced. “We were a bunch of kids scared to embarrass ourselves in front of the world,” she admitted. The decision to form a group this young was on purpose, however. “One of the subjects of the trial were abuse in times of the Me Too movement. So I wanted a young team.” It was also a very diverse team: Vasquez herself comes from a Latin-American background and is a first-generation American. In the media, she was being seen as someone paving the way for young Latinas. The trial not only catapulted her name to fame, but also got her promoted from associate to partner at her law firm.

In the interview, Vasquez spoke of the court case as a tough negotiation and explained some of the strategies she worked with in cross-examining Amber Heard.
On the panel „She’s a negotiatior“ N-Conference wanted the experts to elaborate on diversity in negotiating teams. While women face the same challenges, they might bring different strategies to the table. The experts Beth Fisher-Yoshida and Matthias Schranner discussed.
Beth Fisher-Yoshida teaches classes in negotiation, conflict resolution, and conflict analysis at Columbia University in New York. She also authored the book „New Story, New Power: A Woman’s Guide to Negotiation“.

In the interview, she spoke of the court case as a tough negotiation situation and explained some of the strategies she worked with in cross-examining Amber Heard. “I wan­ted her to explain herself. The more you explain, the likelier you are to mess up, slip and say the wrong thing.” She stressed how important one’s mindset and emotional regulation are in stressful moments like this. This is why she says she could be seen comforting Johnny Depp a lot. The two seemed close and familiar with each other. This led to rumors of them having an affair, but Vasquez says she was simply trying to comfort her client in times of high stress.

Fotos: Negotiation Conference

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