Samantha Palmer, WG’20, describes lessons from an FBI hostage negotiator as “100% transferable” to her work in business development.

When Samantha Palmer, WG’20, director of business development at Amgen, heard that a McNulty Leadership Program Workshop called “Gathering Intelligence through Conversation” was going to be facilitated by an FBI agent, she signed up right away.

“Negotiation and the ability to gather intelligence through conversation is an essential aspect of daily life, whether it is interacting with others at home, at work, or conducting a business transaction. The ability to resolve differences in opinion in a mutually beneficial way is critical and being able to impact behavioral change in others can be achieved through effective communication, active listening, and exercising understanding of the other party’s point of view,” she said.

The fact that the day-long Leadership Development Workshop was facilitated by an FBI agent, and the assigned reading was titled “How to Negotiate with Terrorists,” made it even more compelling for Samantha. She noted that the facilitator, a hostage negotiator and leader of his FBI department, has worked on hostage negotiations around the world in places like Afghanistan and locally in the U.S. During the Workshop, he shared his experiences negotiating with hostage takers and how he has used his skills to successfully – and sometimes unsuccessfully – gather intelligence through conversation.

“The break-out sessions and role-playing scenarios were very interesting. In one scenario, we were assigned to be on either an R&D or a commercialization team. The R&D team’s mission was to secure a large budget to enable the generation of a diverse product pipeline, whereas the commercialization team wanted to prioritize product launches of specific assets and a tighter budget. We attempted to negotiate using the conversational skills discussed in the session, then assessed ourselves and others on points for improvement,” said Samantha, noting that this was a helpful way to show how the lessons applied in the business world.

She pointed to six key takeaways from the session:

1. Active Listening

“We all have our own points of view, but the ability to genuinely listen and understand others’ concerns, even if you don’t agree, is critical. This is important whether you are negotiating with a hostage taker, a CEO, or your five-year-old child.”

2. Stay Calm and Respectful

“When not getting one’s way, it may be tempting to lose emotional control, resulting in raised voices, disrespectful language or interrupting others as they speak. Being conscious of choice of words, tone and delivery are key to building respect and trust from others during conversation.”

3. Be Empathetic

“Even if on opposite sides, each person has a right to their opinion. Empathy is neither opposition nor agreement.”

4. Rapport

“Try to build relationships of mutual trust and respect.”

5. Prioritize Goals

“Going into a negotiation, prioritize goals. The likelihood of having everything go 100% in your favor is low, so identify the top two to three must-haves.”

6. Be Prepared for Confrontation

“Disagreements may lead to confrontation, but there is no need to be threatening or judgmental. Stay calm and focus on the skills listed above.”

Samantha said, “These skills are all transferable to my work in business development. As I strategically seek innovative therapeutics being developed by other biotech/pharma companies that could be licensed, and we engage in deal negotiations, my team and I need to gather intelligence through conversation to understand the other party’s expressed and unexpressed deal desires. It’s also important to be able to detect through conversation and body language if someone is being deceitful. This workshop was a hands-on way to improve negotiation skills for students in all kinds of fields.”

She added that she’s already looking into additional McNulty Leadership Program opportunities, such as the upcoming Alaska Leadership Venture and Firefighter for a Day Team Challenge for Wharton EMBA students, and taking advantage of the many guest speakers who visit campus to discuss leadership.

“Wharton offers many opportunities to learn more about leadership, and workshops like the Gathering Intelligence Through Conversation Leadership Development Workshop are great ways to enhance our educational experience,” she said.

Posted: February 20, 2019

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