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YDPDI Blog:  Hands-On Learning In Action

This blog describes what actually happens in YDPDI seminars.  They're not typical classes, design studios or lectures.  YDPDI provides hands-on learning experiences so participants develop in-depth understanding and build essential skills.


YDPDI (The Young Designers Professional Development Institute) builds core competencies for Young Designers at the point in their career progress when their responsibilities begin to include more communications and management tasks.  The program consists of eleven monthly half-day seminars held in Boston area design, construction and owner/client organizations.  Gathering Pace, Inc. offers the program in partnership with the Boston Society of Architects.

 Improving Negotiations Skills At YDPDI Seminar

By Aminah McNulty, YDPDI Alumna, Community Facilitator, Landscape Designers

“My key takeaways for negotiation strategy are: listen, find shared goals, understand the other side, know your facts, admit fault and reach a common ground. These tools will no doubt prove useful and effective as I hone my skills as a mediator, persuader and negotiator.”

Negotiation is a hot button topic among emerging professionals today, a skill we all need to develop and improve.  
Our guest instructors for this session included Mary Feeney, Esq. of Bowditch & Dewey LLP and David Hancock of CBT Architects.  Their key advice is to question and reject the win/lose framework of negotiation. 

David identifies himself as a mediator rather than a negotiator. To him, negotiation means finding a way forward, like navigating a boat through a rocky passage. As a mediator, there will always be a mutually beneficial solution. This choice in language suggest a paradigm shift to me. Through a change in wording and mentality, a disagreement, settlement or conflict can go from a head to head stalemate to a hand in hand conversation.

David Hancock advises YDPDI participants preparing their negotiation strategy.  (Photo by Amina McNulty)

As a lawyer, Mary is often called in to mediate negotiations. She considers herself a persuader with the motto: “Be persistent, don’t leave until you get what you want”.  She believes that approaching negotiation as an iterative process rather than a face-off allows room for a constructive path forward and ultimately a solution. Mary also advises to identify your goals up front so as to streamline the conversation. It is imperative to go into a negotiation knowing both what you want and what you are willing to give up.

To give us hands-on experience negotiating, we used a case study of the mythical town of Lopton and its beautiful Lopton Meadow.  The Meadow is a 750-acre tract of undeveloped grass and woodland beloved to the community as a source of recreation, refuge and civic pride.  We took on roles as either the developer (Green Leaf Development) that wants to build a 50-acre office park in the meadow the or as SMAG, Save the Meadow Action Group (SMAG) a self-appointed committee of affluent Lopton residents strongly opposed to the development of this office park.

I was part of SMAG. We prepared a list of top concerns including ecological impact, height of the development, safety regarding increased traffic density, loss of recreation space and local job security. During the first round, our presentation delivery was scattered and unplanned.  Dave and Mary suggested we identify a central goal.  In the event that our request was not met, they suggested we come up with a list of demands in exchange for the development.

Our revised major points were: location choice, cultural relevancy, transparency, infrastructure and public safety. Our salient point questioned why GLP couldn’t build their office park in the crumbling downtown instead of the pristine meadow. Although we presented our case with an arrogant, not-in-my-back-yard collective voice, (in keeping with our highbrow character profiles), Mary loved this argument as it echoed a greater trend in development to revitalize and densify existing urban centers.  

Between the two rounds of discussion, the Lopton Advisory Committee told us they strongly favored GLP’s proposed development. They pointed out the immense benefits of 800+ desperately needed jobs, along with substantial profit increase through broadening Lopton’s tax base. The infrastructure question was the crux of their feedback. One board member asked why we couldn’t develop both the downtown and the meadow. Bill Ronco noted this as the most effective strategy in our whole interaction. By divesting from an either/or mindset, they left behind the unproductive stalemate and began to explore the grey area of compromise. A simple way to tap into this strategy is to ask both parties to come up with three mutually beneficial scenarios.

This exercise was highly informative. Through engaging in a life-like stakeholder negotiation, I was able to observe the process and pitfalls of drawing a line in the sand. SMAG began our brainstorming session staunchly opposed to the office park. Our long list of social, economic and environmental factors was our defense against our black and white argument. As the meeting progressed, this attitude got us nowhere.

While we could continue to oppose it point blank, we had to face Mary’s question of whether or not our position was sustainable. This process reiterated Mary and Dave’s advice. It is important to always reassess the validity of our operating assumptions. My key takeaways for negotiation strategy are: listen, find shared goals, understand the other side, know your facts, admit fault and reach a common ground. These tools will no doubt prove useful and effective as I hone my skills as a mediator, persuader and negotiator.

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