By Robb Murray
Free Press Staff Writer
MANKATO — Who better to instruct on negotiation than a former politician? And what better politician could there be for that task at a Mankato collection of women than one of the most successful female politicians to come out of Mankato?
Margaret Anderson Kelliher was one of the featured speakers Thursday at the Mankato YWCA’s Leadership Conference, a first-of-its-kind event that treated several hundred women to two days of professional and personal development and inspiration. The event, which featured best-selling authors and business leaders, was a sellout.
Kelliher’s talk was among the more timely, as the state and nation just went through another Election Day.
Her talk was focused on negotiating, but she peppered her talk with enough of her own personal story to remind attendees why her presence was apropos.
Kelliher was born and raised on a rural Mankato farm, the youngest of a handful of siblings and the only girl. This gave her few chances to learn how to interact with kids her age so her parents enhanced her interpersonal skills with some not-so-voluntary participation in 4-H.
It was the beginning, she said, of a public speaking reputation that would get her noticed. It also lead to her being tapped to replace Dee Long in the Minnesota House of Representatives
This is where she was thrown headfirst into the world of high-stakes negotiation.
Not long after she got into the Legislature, Kelliher was invited to a special learning session at Harvard taught by top national negotiating experts, and she learned a few things.
“You’d be shocked how many people go into a negotiation without having done their homework,” she said.
Negotiating skills, she said, are extremely important. It gives you the ability to control things, and Kelliher says most people aren’t very good at negotiating (even ones who consider themselves good negotiators).
What does it mean to an effective negotiator?
It means keeping your cool, holding most of your emotions in check and paying attention to a few key principles: appreciating people and making sure they appreciate you, affiliation (being treated as a colleague rather than adversary), autonomy (making sure autonomy isn’t impinged upon), status (making sure your status was respected when it was deserved), and role (making sure you’re satisfied with the activities you performed in your role).
In some cases, however, negotiations take place with people who don’t appreciate you or respect you, don’t treat you as a colleague, impinge your autonomy, etc.
What do you do then, one woman asked.
Kelliher said she’s been faced with people who will say, in essence, “You have to do this my way, or I’m not negotiating with you,” she said. “Repeat back to them what they said. Chances are they’ll say, ‘I never said that.’ And you can say, ‘Yes you did.’ This works particularly well at home.”
In a possible hint toward today’s political environment, Kelliher had a critique of modern public negotiations.
“In our world today, words like compromise can be tainted, they can sound kind of bad,” she said. “Negotiation is not just about splitting the baby down the middle, it’s about negotiating interests.”
She also gave the crowd some practical advice.
“Do any of you ever feel like crying during a meeting?” she asked. Dozens of hands went up.
So she told them to try this: The next time you get the feeling that you want to cry in a meeting, dig your thumbnail into one of your fingers really hard. The pain will override your emotional need to cry.
“That’s practical advice you can use,” she said.