Season 1 Episode 18: Kathleen O’Connor

We are thrilled to announce this insightful conversation with Professor Kathleen O’Connor. Professor O’Connor is a distinguished expert in her field, and we couldn’t be more honoured to have her share her knowledge and wisdom with us. Join us as we delve into thought-provoking discussions, gain valuable insights, and explore new perspectives on the art of negotiation and winning strategies. 

Season 1 Episode 18: Kathleen O’Connor Full edited transcript

Section One: Relationship management, human connection and problem-solving

Chris Caldwell: Thank you so much for taking the time to speak to us today. It’s a real pleasure, a real honor. I am delighted that you found the time.

Professor Kathleen O’Connor: Thanks, Chris.  I appreciate being here!

Chris: Brilliant!  Thank you. 

We could go in so many different directions with this conversation, like your expertise in negotiation and conflict and leadership and diversity and women’s rights. There are a million different ways we could go, but this begs the question of what is a unifying theme or path for your career?

Kathleen: It’s a great question because when you look at all of them, I have been at this a long time.  When you look at all of these, you might say that she might be a bit of a dilettante.  I have to say in part yes, in part no.  I have pursued different interests over the course of my career and those have changed as they do in one’s career, but I started pretty solidly in negotiation and I think the reason why I started studying negotiation has continued. So that’s the thread: an interest in how people manage relationships and how people find a sense of connection to one another that enables them to solve problems–also, in a way that kind of soothes their soul.  Maybe that’s too big, but that’s my idea. I like to think about how people interact with each other.

Chris: Many of the themes that you have worked on in your career must have had personal impacts.   You’ve looked at issues about how to best negotiate and how to manage teams, how to empower women in the workplace. Can you give us a little example of something that you can say from your personal expertise that, in your own life, the teachings have had a positive impact on?

Kathleen: Yes, that’s a super question!  It’s often said about academics that we study the thing that we’re not very good at, that we’re trying to get better at, which is why we study it. That was certainly true of me. 

I can tell you a couple of stories.  One is that the first car I ever bought was a Saturn. It was an American car, a General Motors car, I think.  If you remember anything about the Saturn, there was no negotiation. It was a situation where you paid the sticker price no matter who you were or what you asked for.  And, in that moment, I realized that I was avoiding negotiation because I knew that women often didn’t find themselves on the better end of those kinds of deals.  So, that was one place where I said, if I could do this better, it would make a huge difference, not only to my life but to my economic well-being, my pocketbook. So that was a prompt for how I did it.

When it comes to some of the other examples, I do a lot of work and I do a lot of teaching around women in the workplace.  What has struck me since I started this is that women simply don’t have to wait for permission. They just have to step into the space and take it and give their opinions and contribute to the conversation.  I think for many years in my early career, I was far less willing to step into that conversation as a younger woman.  So, I think that’s changed. I realize that, well, I’m not sure the world is waiting for me to speak up, but it’s certainly true the conversation would likely benefit if more people like me said more in the room. So those are a couple of examples.

Chris: Okay, if we’re looking at negotiation, it’s a fundamental part of the human process and everything we do.  Why do you think that is so important? Why do we like to talk so much?

Kathleen: Oh, it’s a really good one, this idea of talk. So, first of all, we’re social. I mean, everybody knows that we’re social. And so, the way we build relationships is mostly through speech, right? So that’s a piece of it, of negotiations. That’s why we like to communicate and why many people are looking to be better communicators.  

Negotiation is a technology.  That’s how I think about it. Let me say a little bit more.  Negotiation is a technology for solving problems, for coming up with creative new avenues to pursue for managing relationships.  What I mean by that is the way that I teach negotiation and the way that most people, scholars, think about negotiation is that you have a set of interests, Chris, in our negotiation, I have a set of interests and my goal is to try to figure out how I can meet my interest. At the same time, I’m meeting at least some of yours so that you say yes to the deal because we’re dependent on each other. I want to do as well as I can, but unless you say yes, there’s no deal.

Part of why I think the power of negotiation is such an essential skill for people to have is it’s really the only way that we’re going to be able to both walk away with some of our needs met and for us to be happy with the deal. It isn’t just that I want a good deal from you, and I walk away thrilled. If you walk away unhappy, I have a problem on my hands. Right? You’re not going to come back to me. You may not honor the agreement. So, it’s also a technology for building relationships and enabling people’s relationships to continue in a constructive way. 

I negotiate all the time in my marriage.  I’ve been married for 25 years, which I do find is a bit of an achievement!  Hopefully, we’ll make it one more year. But I’ve been married for 25 years. My husband and I negotiate for everything and now it’s sort of second nature.  I’m very explicit about ‘’here’s what I’m interested in,” and he tells me what he’s interested in.

Can I pause for a story? 

When we were first married, we were living in upstate New York–very cold, very snowy!  And we were looking ahead to our January break.  We were both academics at the time.  ‘’Where do you want to go on holiday?’’ he said to me.  It was very sweet. I said, I’d like to go, and I was living in the United States, I said, I’d like to go to Miami. He’s a German. He rolls his eyes and says, ‘’Miami, I don’t want to go there.  I want to go to Montreal.’’  

‘’In the middle of winter? It’s further north than we are!’’

So, we could go back and forth at that moment: Miami, Montreal, Miami, Montreal, and we could settle in Maryland.  We’d be eating our out-of-season crabs right in Maryland, and neither one of us would be happy. 

It was an early lesson for me in the power of saying, ‘’why do you want that?’’ and him saying, ‘’I want something that feels older; I want a bit of history; I want to speak a little French.’’  He’s multilingual.

‘’Why do you want to go to Miami?’’  

Like you have to answer this question!  I want dancing and sunshine and drinks and all that kind of thing. No, we didn’t want to go to Maryland. We didn’t want to go to Montreal or Miami.  True story. We did go to San Juan, Puerto Rico, where he could practice Spanish and see the old forts.  It’s that kind of thing that I think is really powerful. It’s being able to ask the question why and not in an accusatory way, not a way that makes someone feel defensive, but in a way that enables us to align and have both of us be happy. 

Chris: That’s fantastic! A little piece of advice from the personal side is absolutely amazing to have. Are there a few words of wisdom you could give to people out there who are wondering what is the secret to a 25-year marriage, a happy marriage?  It’s a hard thing in this world.  It’s a really hard thing.

Kathleen: It is a hard thing. You know what? I think that everybody’s got their own formula for success. There are two things. One is in jest and one is more for real.

The first, and I read this somewhere, is the idea that neither one of us want to get divorced at the same time.  Maybe you’ve seen the same thing.  Whenever he wanted to split up, I didn’t and when I did, he didn’t. So that’s part of it.  There’s always somebody who may want to walk away, but we keep it going.

But the second really is negotiation. He’s made big career jumps and I’ve made big career jumps. We came here to London from upstate New York as a career jump for my husband.  And we’re pretty confident that if we’re making a trade-off, that it’s the right thing to do.  When I’ve taken a step back in my career for my husband, he’s been happy. I’ve been happy with that, and he’s willing to do the same for me, so it’s all really about the negotiation, understanding what makes each other happy and trying to meet that interest, right, trying to meet that need for happiness. At least that’s worked for us.


Section Two: the geopolitical complexity of COP27

Chris: At the moment, at the time of recording, probably the biggest geopolitical negotiation in the world is happening, which is COP27. And this is a force. Something like 40,000 people are there, which, in itself, is an eco crime.

Kathleen: Exactly.  Yes, well said.

Chris: So far, our conversation has been in and around making the other person happy and about love. This is a slightly different situation. How would you characterize this massive geopolitical type of situation?

Kathleen: Well, as you said, it’s in a completely different category.  And part of the reason is because these folks are representatives. They’re agents of their home countries. And there are multiple members of those teams in their home countries. This is how you get 40,000 people.  So, they’re not only managing the negotiation at the table here and in public, but they’re also representing the interests of the people they represent.  And the folks around them on their same team, their delegation, are differentially accountable to people back home as well. Right.  Then there’s the internal negotiation that has to happen among the members of the team.  It’s much more complicated than going yourself as an agent for yourself and having the negotiation. 

I used to do work with unions. I worked briefly for the United Auto Workers in the U.S. in labor and contract negotiations very early in my career, and it had kind of a similar flavor.  What was happening in public at a table was like this situation, with all these folks sitting across from each other on both sides, kind of staring each other down. 

You know, that’s not where the work is happening. The work is happening backstage. The work is happening outside where the lead negotiator here and the company rep are going to sit together and they’re going to be comfortable and able to hammer something out. The public nature of this is what makes it particularly difficult. That is, you’ve got stakeholders who want a particular outcome and you might actually get close to that, but anything that you say yes to or say no to at the table, if it becomes public, kind of ties your hands, doesn’t it?  You have to be able to go backstage, iterate and argue and propose and retreat and go back again. You want to almost keep the public outside of that real conversation that’s happening so they don’t raise expectations or hold your feet to the fire. And when you walk out, you want to be able to say, you know, about the other party, ‘’they negotiated tough.  That was a hard negotiation, but we’re standing here together.’’  You have to help them sell it back home. But together we’re going to make this thing go.

It’s exponentially more complicated because there are actually three negotiations, I’d say, going on: the formal one across the table, the one inside the team and the implicit one that’s going to happen in terms of representing your principles as an agent.

Chris: And possibly even a fourth one is representing yourself as a human and representing the family.

Kathleen: That’s exactly right. As a human being, with children, with grandchildren, with concern about the planet, with a moral compass, you might decide that you want to go a different route. I don’t envy them the task. It’s critical and it’s really hard to make progress because, of course, there are power differentials. There are countries that are already affected by climate change, right, that want payments, that want to be made whole for the sins of other countries. Those are hard sells back home.

As an American, I pay attention to those kinds of politics. And those are hard. I mean, there are still climate deniers. There are climate change deniers. It’s shocking!

Chris: Thankfully, they’re very much in the minority now.

Kathleen: But goodness, that has not always been so!  I don’t know how fast that has moved.  It wasn’t that long ago that people were asking one, ‘’is climate change real?’’ and two, ‘’do people have anything to do with it?’’

Chris: Really only about, I’d say, five or six years ago was just a tipping point.

Kathleen: That’s amazing though, isn’t it?

Chris: Yeah.

Kathleen: I mean, it didn’t take that long.

Chris: Yeah. Well, really, it took an awful long time. It happened very, very slowly and then all of a sudden.

Kathleen: That’s how a lot of social movements are. Social change, is this not how it happens? But, in the grand scheme of things, was it 10 years, 20 years, 30 years of, ‘’oh my gosh, we’ve got a problem.’’ It wasn’t that long.  I know it feels like a long time, but it’s like human rights. There are some rights that are denied and denied and denied and the next thing you know, they’re not denied anymore. They’re not allowed. Right. And it’s like it’s always been this way.

Chris: Yeah. Until the Supreme Court steps in…

Kathleen: A totally different issue Chris!

Chris: But there’s so much to unpack in there. 

One of the parts that they looked at was the big power imbalance you’re talking about where you’ve got the historic countries who have been the beneficiaries of all of the pollution and the countries that are weaker, more vulnerable, that are paying the price for them.

How do you deal with that type of power imbalance?  You talked before about the relative successes of being tough or cooperative, and generally saying cooperative wins but do these smaller nations have any choice but to be tough, to say no because it’s an existential crisis?

Kathleen: I think there are several questions in there that are really, really interesting.  One is that minorities, meaning numerical minorities, can always be noisier than majorities. But you have to be, right? No one’s going to pay attention.  

This is the advice I always give in those situations: there’s power in getting bigger.  That means several things. And I know this is what’s happening, you collude, right?  You have to actually band together with others.  You have to persuade some of your bigger polluters. I get that.  Are there fence sitters? Are there some where the internal politics could go either way?  Are there some countries where the Greens are becoming ever more powerful?  You could actually pick off that country and have that country help you, whatever that entity is, help you to get bigger and more powerful in the room. 

I’m not as familiar with this as I could be. I’m reading the news as everyone is.  But the big polluters, China and the U.S., have got to decide they’re going to sit together and they’re going to make some plans.  I mean, part of it is that anything I concede to has repercussions not only politically and internally, but in terms of potentially my ability to keep up, to grow my economy, whatever that is. So, I really need the big countries to be able to club together and say, ‘’We’re going to agree to something like this.’’ That’s going to help the small ones.

The small ones themselves, I don’t think have a lot of leverage. It’s about the big ones realizing that the time is now and that they’re all going to take a hit. They’re all going to say yes to this, whatever that thing might be. That’s how I would think about it. So, you’re going to collude among yourselves and get bigger and then pick off some of your powerful countries that are willing to make these changes.  And then that becomes a very large coalition that might be able to influence the big polluters through other means. Right?

Chris: Just as you say that, one really great example of a small country making a lot of noise is Barbados, where you have a very charismatic leader, a female leader.  Mia Mottley just opened her heart and it was, ‘’wow!’’

Kathleen: Yeah, inspirational really!

Chris: And everybody in the room sat up and took it.

Kathleen: What I would think about is the inspirational leader, especially in this day and age, really can inspire the 40,000 delegates.  What’s important is it gets on social media and then that becomes the kind of thing where a younger generation of voters, for instance in the U.S., says, ‘’I want these kinds of policies, not those kinds of policies.’’ Right. ‘’I’m challenging whether the way we’ve always done it is the best way to do it going forward.’’  

I would imagine the benefit of that inspiration is not even particularly in that room, although it might be.  It’s where else it goes and who sees it and whether they have power either on their own or in groups to be able to affect the internal politics. Right now, it’s unlikely to happen in places like China, but it could very well happen in the United States, where this voting bloc of younger people are voting in larger and larger numbers than we’ve seen before.  They become very powerful advocates for change. 

My own sons are in their early twenties and, I don’t talk to them very often about this, but it’s come up: they don’t want to have children. There’s a whole generation of kids who say, ‘’I’m not sure if I want to have children.  I don’t know that the planet can take it. I don’t know what the future is going to be. I might adopt children.’’ That kind of thing. There’s a different sense of their role in the world and their responsibility for the world.  I think it’s very, very interesting.  

So, actually, it’s not only this marvelous speech from the leader of Barbados, but where else it goes and what it enables in those home countries where people can protest.

There’s ‘’Just Stop Oil’’ here in this country.  I was walking in Trafalgar Square just a couple of weeks ago, and they were right there snarling up Trafalgar Square.  It’s inconvenient, but most public protests are inconvenient. That’s the point of public protests—to draw attention, to get people to say, ‘’What is ‘Just Stop Oil’ all about?  Should I be driving my car all the time?’’  Those kinds of things. 

Chris: And then there’s pouring soup over a great work of art.

Kathleen: That would get people’s attention.

Chris: They knew that there was glass on the front of it and it wasn’t going to be damaged in any way, but they get worldwide media attention.

Kathleen: This is exactly right. This is the old days of Greenpeace scaling different buildings.  You want people to say, ‘’What is that? And why are they doing it?’’  I think sometimes the point of these kinds of movements in these kinds of protests gets lost because you say, ‘’Well, why would I be on your side when you’re snarling traffic?’’ It’s not really about you, the driver.

Chris: Yeah, it’s making you think about it. 


Section Three: What would it take to get you to say yes? 

Chris: Also, on other difficult topics, without particularly naming names because you go into all sorts of rabbit holes, how do you deal with big, powerful, important countries that hold out, that just for their own reasons are saying no and snarling up the process?

Kathleen: That’s where the negotiation piece comes in.  I can tell you the way I think about this. I had a co-author many, many years ago now who was very interested in environmental questions and environmental disputes in a negotiation, Professor Max Bazerman.  He’s been doing this kind of work for 30 years, 35 years.  At the time, it was not a very popular word, I don’t think, but he would talk about pseudo-sacred issues. He would look at, are these issues sacred or, ‘’What would it take to get you to say yes to this?’’ And I think that’s how you need to think about negotiations. 

So, is there going to be intransigence? There are only so many tools I have to unstick the process, but one question you could ask is, under what conditions might they say, yes? What would it take to get them to say yes? Now, there might be some who would say, ‘’Every tree is like cutting off my own limb.  I don’t want to say goodbye to any of my trees.’’  But the truth is, ‘’What if I planted ten times that number of trees somewhere else? Would that make a difference to you? Would you say yes, under that condition?’’ So again, I don’t know if there’s much brilliance in this except to say, ‘’under what conditions might you say yes?’’ 

And then some of it might be if everyone else says yes, I might be more likely to say yes.  They may be the last mover in the process.  We don’t necessarily want to start with our most intransigent group. We want to start with people who will say yes to change, then those who are on the fence, who are willing to be persuaded or are able to point to another country and say, well, if they’re doing it and they’re able to do it, let’s watch them see how they do it. If it’s successful now, we’ll do it.  Now, you’re building a coalition of the willing.  And then at the very least, you may not be able to get that other country until the very last round.  There is going to be someone who comes last.  We prefer sooner than later, but there is always a country that will decide last.

I think some of the questions are under what conditions, what can other countries bring to the table, that would make it attractive for that country to say yes?  Or what kind of pressures can be applied that would make it more attractive to say yes rather than continue to say no?

Chris: On the purely economic side, if the problem is a very significant portion of your national income is coming from oil and gas and we need to keep that in the ground, it’s a really, really difficult thing for any country on that basis to say, ‘’yeah, okay’’ to.  And I understand that.

Kathleen:  I get that.  I think that’s right. If you have an economy that’s built on that resource it is very difficult.  At the same time, there are states like California, in the United States, that have now banned gasoline engines coming up in five years’’. California is one of the biggest economies in the world. You get some economies that are going to stand up and say, ‘’We’re not going to enable this anymore,’’ and then having gas in the ground is not that appealing anymore.  It’s not a very helpful resource. Right. So now you’re going to have to think about something else. 

Again, I think when Gavin Newsom–he’s not a world leader. He’s a he’s governor of California—when he stands up and says with the legislature, ‘’We’re not going to have these anymore.’’ That reduces the power of the companies that are sitting on oil and gas.  It’s just a matter of time before the world moves in a very different direction, and now whatever power you had is gone. So, the question is, are there benefits you can extract from the rest of the world maybe to help you transition away? You know, the end is coming. Can you transition away to something else, and sooner?   That might be, again, the way to think about it over time.  The world is not static, right?  Obviously, it’s very dynamic. I don’t know if the California decision got a lot of play, but I thought it was brilliant. 

Certain companies need to know what’s coming one way or the other and then they know what to produce. And so now they know that if they stop producing that kind of engine and they start producing something else, cars with that newer engine, then they’ll get more sales in California.  It’s the predictability that makes a difference. So, if a few countries and states stick their necks out and say, ‘’We’re going to do that this way,’’ then companies have a reason to make more energy-efficient or electric vehicles.  I mean, it’s probably not quite that simple, but the predictability makes a difference.  It’s unpredictability that is a problem.  Then companies don’t know what they’re producing, for whom, or how much.

Chris: Yeah. And there are other things like purchase that just starts in, let’s say, Saudi Arabia. There are a lot of solar resources, there’s a lot of desert. So maybe there’s some kind of arrangement to be made where turn off some of that and we’ll build some of this and you know…

Kathleen: I don’t think that you’re wrong.  One of the things that we know is coming is countries that have a lot of sun or a lot of wind or whatever are going to win, right, because they become super independent. 

There is a great study about wind in Texas and in California.  One state was much more likely to invest in the alternative and the other one was less likely, but you had to put the money where the wind was and there are vast expanses in Texas that are quite windy.

Chris: Right!  In Texas, they have been doing some great work on the renewables side.

Kathleen: Amazing!

Chris: Ten years ago, you would never have imagined it, but it’s stunning!

Kathleen: That’s amazing! And yes, what would it take to get them to switch?  I’m not sure that they haven’t thought about that.  There’s a reason why so many of these countries are hosting sporting events and building eco-friendly cities and all this other kind of stuff. It’s like you’re going to have to diversify your economy because it’s not clear how much longer people are going to want that particular resource.


Section Four: Notice who’s missing? How inclusion affects outcomes

Chris: One of the most striking images of COP so far is the picture of all the world leaders. And the caption that just went around the world was, ‘’Notice who’s missing?’’  It was a massive lack of gender diversity, a really stunning lack of genuine gender diversity!  Do you think that that is in some way responsible for the impasse?  Do you think that we’d see a better solution with better gender diversity, or is that all just a stereotype? 

Kathleen: I mean, there is a little bit of nugget of truth to that.  You know, it doesn’t look that different from other photographs of powerful gatherings. I mean, my guess is that in any big board of any large organization, you might get one or two, but you never get more than that when it comes to gender diversity or racial diversity or socioeconomic background diversity. It’s almost like there’s a quota in companies that says, ‘’Why don’t you get two or three? Don’t get any more.’’  You’d never see, you know, eight women sitting around the table.

Would it be different?  There are studies in political science, my husband’s a political scientist, that show that the more women you have in a legislature, the more you get legislation passed that is friendly to the issues that women care about. By the way, we carry a lot of issues, including economic issues.  So, it doesn’t matter what party they’re from.  There is some evidence to this point that you were making about if there were women, would it change the conversation? There are situations where it does change the conversation. It changes legislation to have more women who are leading because some of their interests just look very different from the interests of some of the men that get elected.

So, yes, do they negotiate differently?  That’s another issue. I think that’s another question. It depends on the context.  There are some contexts that, stereotypically, do not advantage women and some situations where women are more likely to win the negotiation. 

I can tell you a little bit about this. Women systematically do better in negotiations when they go in representing someone else.  Women are notoriously bad at representing their own interests at the table.  They are notoriously bad at this, which is one of the reasons why, when I teach women’s programs on negotiation, which I do here, I say negotiate for yourself as though you’re negotiating for someone that you really cared about. They’re very good when it comes to representing families, teams, organizations. They’re fierce in the negotiation!  They will be well prepared. They will go to battle. They will want to get as much as they can for the person that they represent or the group they represent. They are unbelievable! And this is empirically true.

 When women negotiate for themselves, however, they’re notoriously bad at it. Men will almost always outperform them.  There are 100 reasons, but one is women are just a little bit less comfortable bragging about their own achievements, bragging about their accomplishments.  There is a tendency, and I think it’s been socialized in women, to put your head down and do your best work so we’ll notice you and promote you. And that’s not actually the way it works, right? You’re going to have to stand up and make an argument for yourself and make sure people know what you’re doing and how you’re doing it.

But there’s a lot of data that suggests that, actually, it would behoove more people to have more women negotiating on their behalf because they will come in tougher and, to some extent, more creatively. They’re far less likely to let the conversation drift.

So, is that a helpful answer to your question? Would it be different if there were women? I think it probably would be different if there were women.

Chris: Yeah, but it doesn’t sound like it would be more likely to get a positive outcome just from that. From the way you framed it, you just have, basically, two tough guys, just individuals bashing it out against each other.

Kathleen: Fair enough. That’s a really good insight.  To the extent that they know the secret to negotiation, which is creativity, they would be better off.  A well-trained woman, I would argue, is probably going to be the winner at the table.

Here’s what it should do. I study self-efficacy.  I study confidence in negotiation, and the more confident you are, both in your ability to be tough, which is part of it, but also in your ability to be creative and to work with the other side, should predict how well you do in the negotiation and how well the other side does in the negotiation. 

So, it’s not just about banging the other person over the head. It’s finding space where we can find some trade-offs that benefit both of us.  If women are well trained and know that about negotiation, they can go in and come up with really brilliant deals because it’s not about banging the other side over the head. Then you don’t have to negotiate.  Then it’s just whoever is more powerful wins because all you’re really doing is you’re convincing the other side that you’re more powerful. They have to make concessions to you.

 It’s about finding the whitespace. It’s about finding what you really care about. It’s about discovering that you want to spend your holiday in a place that has some history and where you can speak another language and I want to be in a place that’s got sunshine and great drinks.  And then you say, ‘’Oh, let’s put that together.’’ Now we can find something that works, right?

So, they’d have to know it’s not just about being tough on the other side. It’s being tough on the problem.


Section Five: Indirect successes and breaking through stuck processes with creativity 

Chris: Okay, we’ve also got a problem with COP this year in the sheer number of people around the place and an almost necessary trade-off.   Is there a necessary trade-off in something like this between the democracy of the whole situation and the effectiveness of the negotiations if we’re talking thousands of people versus two or three parties?

Kathleen: I think that COP is serving multiple masters as it were.  It brings world attention to an important issue, which has got to be part of the reason why COP exists, and it gets a lot of attention these days. This is COP 27. I don’t know what COP 1 was like or what COP 2 was like.  I don’t remember hearing about it.  I could have been distracted by other things in my life, to be honest, but I think that it focuses world attention on these issues.  It gives the citizens of countries whose representatives are there an opportunity to get a platform, to be interviewed by the national news, to be interviewed for top stories in the big papers of the day. I think that is part of what’s so important about COP.  

Yes, it’s also about what comes out of that in terms of negotiation. My guess is that most of that is being done in the back rooms, right? It’s being done out of the public eye, as we discussed.  I don’t know that that’s true, but I would imagine that’s what’s happening because it’s very unwieldy to actually get anything done with it. I mean, you have more than–what is the Amazon rule? No team bigger than two pizzas can feed or something along those lines. You’re not going to get anything done. I look down at our table, our beautiful table. We would get nothing done if every seat in here was filled. We’d never make a decision. 

So, I think there are probably multiple reasons why we have COP 27.

Chris: Yeah. That’s exactly what you do tend to have with large numbers of delegates talking about what’s happening and then the leaders flying in and having backroom conversations and coming out very late in the day, but sometimes with very surprising outcomes.  Maybe things that just weren’t in the public domain pop out and somebody gets creative.

Kathleen: Yeah, I think that’s true. I hope that’s what it is. I would argue that once you have a conversation and, by the way, I do understand that this is not Joe Biden sitting with Xi and the two of them coming up with really great ideas for what they can do.  Right? They are very well-briefed. There are other people actually leading the delegations, actually doing the hard work, but even that is a backroom, right? Even that is: we’re going to sit together as the heads of these delegations and have the conversation.  But you do hope that in that conversation there is something emergent.  You know, ‘’I didn’t realize that” or, ‘’say a little bit more about that,’’ which is so much of how good agreements are reached in negotiation. 

We come in with a set of priorities. You come in with yours; I come in with mine. Sometimes they overlap; sometimes there’s room in there. You’ve got your own that I’m not aware of and what we come out of it with is a very different understanding. I now understand very differently what you are interested in and where your lines are. You know, I mean, your lines look different from mine. What I’m able to do as the Prime Minister in the UK is very different from what the German chancellor could achieve necessarily.  It’s different because we’ve got different constituencies, our elections are at different times and, you know, parliamentary systems are different from direct election kinds of systems.

Chris: One of the biggest challenges that the COPs face is, well, as you said, you hadn’t really heard of COP 1 or 2. We’re now on 27. How much further ahead are we really? And from 26 to 27, with all the great promise of 26 and 27, it carries a lot of baggage and a lot of weight.  And there’s a sense of deflation and failure. There’s some optimism that comes out and, for people at the end of the car, it’s amazing. But, ultimately, there’s always a sense that we should have done more. I mean, we had to have done more and we’re now further behind than we could be.  

How do we get over that type of impasse, when you’ve sat, you’ve talked before, you haven’t managed to get to a big breakthrough and then you are sitting down here again?

Kathleen: It’s hard. I think you’re dealing with human beings. They may be delegations from different countries, but they’re human beings. And I think, first of all, you have to lower your expectations, which I know is really hard for this group, right? Because everything rides on this. It’s very hard to say to someone who’s passionate and whose life work is in this area to say, I don’t think that the best outcomes are really going to come out of COP 27. 

I think that the outcomes are going to come from somewhere else and they’re probably going to be, and I might be wrong about this, but my guess is that a leader like Joe Biden comes home and these issues that COP has raised are on the front pages. Then the activists and other not-for-profit groups grab on to it and they try to push that agenda.  And they’re working through their own legislatures. They’re working through the state governments.  It is glacial.  It is glacial because no one leader and no one delegation is able to go back and say, we’re going to change all these kinds of things, right?  It’s going to be small bits of legislation. I mean, to be really frank with you, is it governments that are going to make these differences or is it companies? Isn’t it companies? 

I mean, here’s my thinking: follow the money. You know, when a bank decides or an equity firm decides we’re no longer going to be investing in these kinds of things, when CalPERS, California pension fund, decides we’re no longer going to be investing in these kinds of technologies, we’re no longer investing in these firms, well, that makes things happen, right?  When a company says, we are no longer going to be in this product, we are going to have to diversify or we’re going to divest of this product, things happen. Actually, there’s a lot more traction to be gained from companies than there is from governments.

Chris: Yeah, but part of the reason that I think this type of thing is useful is because we’re talking to the LBS alumni and other alumni, we’re talking to people in business, we’re talking to the C-suite and getting people to think about these types of issues. And if you’re going to be influencing those people, people in business, then…

Kathleen: That’s where the action is going to happen!  We’re talking about COP; well, you know, one of my favourites is The World Economic Forum.  That’s another one where these rich people fly in and destroy the planet on their private planes coming back and forth. You know what it’s like.  And you sort of say, ‘’what’s coming out of that?’’ And I think there’s a lot of work that goes on, but it’s not by—well, you know, Jeff Bezos isn’t going to get the work done, the big speakers aren’t going to get the work done.  There is work that goes on in a place like The Forum, and I’m assuming at COP 27, that happens all year long. 

The event is a way to attract attention and it is, in the case of The World Economic Forum, I would argue it’s a reward for the companies that are ponying up the cash to do the studies, right, to do the research and to actually enact the plans. So, I think there’s a lot of work that goes on, but it does feel glacial and particularly feels glacial, I think, to people who are passionate about the issue.  The fact that there were climate deniers—I have talked with climate deniers.  I mean, ten years ago this was like, ‘’Well, there might be climate change, but it’s not man-made.’’ Right. Okay…  You said, ‘’well, it’s not very fast.’’ I think it’s incredibly fast that we can change people’s perceptions like that. But I understand that when the planet is on fire, it doesn’t feel like it’s fast enough.

Chris: Yeah, and part of it is actually data. 

I think we’ve both been guilty today of just using the word climate change. That is very political.

Kathleen: That’s fair enough.

Chris: That was a deliberate step to say yeah, no it’s global warming.  I mean, it sounds inoffensive. You know, let’s…

Kathleen: Oh, as opposed to global warming.

Chris: Or climate emergency.

Kathleen: Yeah, fair enough. For a long time, it was warming right?  ‘’Global warming.’’

 Chris: Yeah, which carried an intrinsic kind of, ‘’Well that’s probably not good.’’  Change, well change can be good.

Kathleen: I love talking about language!  Actually, the problem for me in global warming was that it was true. It was accurate.  You know, as someone from upstate New York where we’ve had seven feet of snow drop at a time, not everyone was opposed to it!  I remember years ago seeing, and again I’m going back to my American roots here, but I remember seeing a bumper sticker that said, ‘’Minnesotans for Global Warming.’’ Right! It’s like we’re not all going to suffer if the days are warmer…But I know what you’re saying.  The language we use matters.  And I hear your point about if it’s simply change, well change is pretty innocuous. It’s pretty bland.  I don’t mind change. Change is good, right?

Chris: And if you call it, say, a crisis, you take action.  

 Just to wrap up the COP part of the conversation, I am pretty interested in digging up a little bit more about impasses and the research you’ve done on how, even if the people around the table change, if there’s been a history of a failed process and failed discussions then the outcomes are, on average, much worse.  How do you break that? Can you reset that? Do we need something entirely different to COP?  Do we need to start again at COP 1?

Kathleen: That’s a really good question. It’s a really nice insight, actually.  You’re right to say that the research suggests that if you’ve had an impasse, it doesn’t matter what negotiation comes next, you’re going to come out of the gate tougher and more competitive. That’s the instinct. It’s like, ‘’Well, if only I were just a little bit firmer. I could have gotten there faster.’’  It is a danger because you get into what we call distributive spirals.  You get into these spiral patterns.

So how do you break out of it? Really this is a human bias. It’s just a bias. It’s just psychology. So, you can only fix it through psychology. I preface this because it’s going to sound so bland, but you do have to change up the space in which you’re doing this; you do have to do a little bit of work on yourself.  One of the interventions that we came up with for this was for folks to remind themselves of a time when they were successful in their negotiation. I know it seems so silly, doesn’t it? It’s a priming kind of experiment.

So, here’s how you do it.  What you do is you just have people recall a time when they were really successful and they had a breakthrough negotiation.  It could be any kind of negotiation. If you have people write about that for five or 10 minutes, a few things happen.  One is that they unstick themselves psychologically.  They start to think about themselves as someone who’s a good negotiator. And that’s really powerful because our studies show that confidence makes an enormous difference in how you negotiate. The second is that you remind yourself, potentially, of a tactic that you used. You also get out of the frame of thinking about how much you dislike this difficult person across the table and you remember that you have the skill to be able to reshape how they think about the world.

It’s a very small intervention but, actually, when I teach negotiation, I have people do this all the time when they’ve had an impasse in the past. I say, okay, so this time I want you think about the time you had a breakthrough, a really positive breakthrough, a creative negotiation.  And then they go in and I say, okay, what will you do differently? And I also have them fill out a brief little questionnaire where they say they will be more creative this time, they will ask more questions, they will pause more, they will really think about what the other person is saying.  It makes a difference in how well they negotiate.

Chris: Great!

Kathleen: It’s confidence.  It’s an efficacy intervention.  In fact, if I can say one more thing about this, confidence is really critical, not just confidence, ‘’it can be tough when toughness is required,’’ but ‘’I can be creative.’’  Creativity is almost always required in negotiation. And it was more powerful as a predictor of how well people did than almost anything else you could measure. So, for instance, their personality traits, their Machiavellianism, their gender, and their physical attractiveness, are all possible predictors of how well people do in negotiation, but confidence is the number one driver of how well people do.  And, by the way, I’m not saying ability. I’m saying one’s confidence in one’s ability is the strongest driver of outcomes.

Chris: That explains a lot!

Kathleen: Does it?  It can be quiet confidence.  It doesn’t have to be beating your chest.  It’s not just the toughness, it’s the creativity. It’s the ability to pause and think. Negotiations are incredibly complex, right?  I’m not only trying to explain myself to you, I’m trying to remember to ask you why you want something, and then I’m trying to listen.  When you say, ‘’Well, what do you have in mind?’’ I’m writing it down.  I mean, trade agreements, you know, international trade negotiators often do this thing where they come up with something like a straw man: ‘’Here’s a starter for ten.’’ Is that the British expression: ‘’Here’s a starter for ten?’’  And then you just start tearing it up and tearing it apart and it becomes less about the two of us having an argument and more about, ‘’What could we do to improve this document?’’ Nobody’s going to make a pledge to do it. We’re just going to see what we need; you know, this is how we’re going to get moving the needle forward a little bit.  

And again, moving the needle forward a little bit may not be satisfactory if the planet is on fire, but it is a way to advance the negotiation. You have to build.  It’s always advancing it to a steady place and then you can keep building and keep building and keep building.

Chris: Well, it seems like talent is not a prerequisite, and sheer confidence is going to get you an optimal outcome.

Kathleen:  Misplaced confidence is definitely not going to get you a great outcome. So let me be a little bit more specific. It’s about confidence in a set of skills. It’s not about a general sense of confidence.  Maybe that’s hairsplitting. It’s a little bit research and a little bit science-y, but I think it’s worth saying.  It’s a belief that ‘’I can be creative.’’ 

And creativity is necessary.  I think it’s actually creativity that wins a day.  In most negotiations, if I know what your interests are and I know what my own interests are and I know what your constraints are, I know what my constraints are, what the backstops are, it’s just our imaginations now that are going to power the day.  I can say, ‘’Well, what about this and what about this? And what about this?’’

It Is that old idea about saying, ‘’yes, and…’’  Saying ‘’yes, and,’’ keeps the conversation going and it helps you reach for something.  I say, and maybe you say, ‘’Okay, under what conditions could we make this work?’’ And that’s a creativity exercise. That’s not a ‘’no’’ exercise. You know, what we don’t want to do is narrow the space between our positions. You make a demand. I make a demand. We baby-step our way to the midpoint.  Then we’re in Maryland, to go back to my earlier example. 

What we want to do is we want to expand the possibilities, to broaden the possible options: ‘’Well, what would it take?’’ And it is important not to dismiss an idea too quickly, ‘’What if we paid for this?’’ And ‘’What if we could get this country to work with us and we could supply this?’’ Or ‘’What if we could get this country to supply something more cheaply to us and that would mean a better term for the next five years…and that would mean we would stop producing this other thing.’’ You Know, it’s that open kind of conversation and creativity that matters sometimes. It’s not about the two of us. It’s about getting the third party and the fourth party and the fifth party to say, ‘’What are we all bringing to this?’’ Right? ‘’What are you going to trade here? What are you going to trade there?’’ And I’m sure that’s what COP is. That’s what they’re doing at COP.

Chris: So, if I may, what you really need is a good facilitator, a really good manager of the whole ecosystem. I suppose there’ll be some people who will be open and great and creative, but they may be seen as competition.  They might not be listened to.  There’s power in being an independent.

Kathleen: It’s amazing what somebody can do!  It’s like when people have to go through a divorce and they’ve got a divorce mediator.  The mediator is going to help you do everything. They’re not going to give you the suggestion, but you can vent to a mediator. You can complain to a mediator behind closed doors when your spouse isn’t there.  They can bring a proposal to you and it feels a little safer because it isn’t your spouse. You say no to everything the spouse says.

I love the insight about being a facilitator. It’s not a mediator. It’s simply someone who can step back and say, I think you’ve got something happening here or this feels like a dead end. What if we tried something like this, right? You put it up on the wall you brainstorm around it. It becomes very personal, doesn’t it? I mean, as you said, it’s an existential issue. This isn’t just, you know, whether you’re going to knock £1,000 off of my used car.  I mean, people’s lives are at stake.  

I think that emotion, that passion is critical to making some change happen. It can also be an obstacle to really seeing a good enough solution.  What is a good enough solution for this for the next two or three years? What’s a good enough solution for the next five years?  Because nobody ever gets what they want out of the negotiation, right? You always have to make a compromise. The question is, knowing ahead of time how much compromise you’re willing to make and staying at the table long enough to make that happen.

I don’t know who has the data on this, but I’d be curious to know about the relationships that get formed during COP and where they end up, and all the small things that may be agreed to that we’re not privy to, now that the climate becomes hotter every single day.  Again, it’s not fast enough, but my guess is that there are some good conversations and there are some projects that happen. There are some decisions that get made.  

Again, and sorry if it’s not a good example, but it’s the one that I know: why did Gavin Newsom decide that they were going to pass this legislation in California about engines? My guess is that there were some special interests, right? There were some advocates. He was already kind of open to the idea. He thought that politically he was going to win more, right?  He might have gotten donations. I mean, I don’t know what, but something moved because that was not the policy in the state of California. 

So, it is possible to move, but you have got to figure out what moves people.  You have to know enough about what they’re dealing with back home, what the other issues are, to know where you’ve got some leverage.


Section Six: the benefits of inclusion, quotas and removing barriers

Chris: And if we can move on a little bit now to issues which are important for the broader sense of sustainability, to more about topics like justice.  Climate justice is one of those conversations, but you’ve been a big champion of inclusion.  Speaking personally, can you give us an example of how some of this really surprised you with inclusion in Exec Ed and can you broaden out to the amount of people and scholarships and whatever else that you brought into the classrooms?  Have there been any really wonderful moments or experiences?

Kathleen: I don’t know. Let me share with you some of the stories.  There are some really good ones!  We work with the 30% Club. The 30% Club is all about getting more women into seats on boards. 30%, they would agree, is very low.  Why can’t it ever be 100%, right?  This is the old Ruth Bader Ginsburg line in the Supreme Court.  She was asked, ‘’When will there be enough women sitting on the nine-panel court?’’ And she said, ‘’When there are nine.’’  So, there you go!  30% is probably not enough, but it’s a good start.

We’ve partnered with them or they’ve partnered with us and they award scholarships to women who are highly qualified, quite ambitious, and have their eyes set on board roles and C-suite roles. I am on the committee for that.  They’ve been able to support some of those women who are looking for funding because our programs, particularly the very senior programs, are premium programs, right? There’s a wonderful transformation that happens and they’re pricey. 

I’ve then had the opportunity to teach those women when they come through those programs and the conversation is rich.  Their contributions are very interesting. I think they’re extremely well informed.  And I think that they feel a sense, and I shouldn’t overstate it, but a sense of gratitude for the opportunity. And they’re very active. I was on the phone today with one of them who had gotten this award a couple of years ago. She and I are doing a small research project together.  Very interested.  Very keen to change the way women are seen at work.  A very successful woman.  So, do we see that there are benefits of being more inclusive and being more creative about how we create that inclusivity in the classroom?  I think Absolutely!  Absolutely!

Probably ten years ago, I remember working with a company from overseas, and they sent 50 delegates to their executive education program.  There was one woman. I mean, I don’t even know where to start!  And half the faculty who are standing there in front of them are women.  And, you know, you try to say, do you think you’re making the best decisions?  Do you have enough diversity of perspective?  Do you have enough?  Are you listening? Are you bringing too many biases to your decision-making? What has created this situation? And, of course, some people say what’s the problem? And I’d say, well where are the women? 

My concern, especially at the top of the organization, is that if there aren’t enough women up there, then what I’m seeing is that men are overrepresented. And that actually is the way I’d like to talk about it. Men are overrepresented at COP 27.  Men are overrepresented at the top of the organizations. If they’re overrepresented, then I’m a little nervous that we’ve got some mediocre men who are standing in for the really brilliant women.  

You know, there is research on quotas. I know people don’t like them. I mean, they exist on the other side, right? Once we get two or three women, that’s enough, right? And I don’t think we ever say it, but it’s a quota.  People don’t like quotas, but they are actually very good sorting mechanisms. The research suggests that when you have a quota for women, what winds up happening is that more qualified women step forward for additional training programs to improve their leadership skills, and mediocre men step back. 

There should be quotas for the number of women at the top of the organization.  People actually self-selected once a quota was established.  Women said, ‘’Oh, it looks like I could get promoted.’’  They made the rational decision to invest in their resources. When the quota came in, some of the men who would not really be in contention for these positions said, ‘’Well, never mind then. It looks like they’re going to have more women at the top of the firm.’’  I would argue that wasn’t a bad sorting mechanism. The company was able to invest in the people who are ambitious and really want it and didn’t have to invest in other people who are saying, ‘’Sure, I’d love to try it. Why not?’’ 

There are a lot of men up there, you know.  Representation matters and quota is a way to let people know that you have a spot there. The spots will exist for you if you invest in yourself.  Otherwise, women are rational by saying, ‘’Never mind.  I’m not going to bother.’’

Chris: I wish there was a world where quotas weren’t needed.

Kathleen: I agree with you but, it turns out, I think they are!  You know, it’s very controversial. People say, ‘’I don’t want a quota,’’ but sometimes it is necessary—even for women.   We have women’s programs and sometimes women show up and say, ‘’I don’t know why I’m here.  My boss is making me take this program. Why are you trying to fix me?’’ And I say, ‘’I’m not trying to fix you.’’   Do you understand where this is coming from?  

What I find surprising is that when I teach programs that have mostly men in them, which is most of our programs; it’s just the nature of what it looks like at senior levels of companies, there’s not a single man that I’ve ever met who said, ‘’What am I doing here? I’m not broken.’’ They’re like, ‘’I’m a leader in my organization.  I’m a high potential. That’s what I’m doing here.’’  So, I think there’s a framing issue sometimes. Yeah, is that a surprising thing, too?

Chris: It was very surprising, but, as you say it, it suddenly makes perfect sense why, if I was sitting there as a woman in leadership program, I’d be going, ‘’Why am I in a corporate leadership program?’’ 

Kathleen: If I bring men into the same program–and, by the way, it’s almost identical material–if I bring men into that same program, they feel like they’re getting special treatment, that they are high potential. They believe their boss thinks enough of them that they want to fast-track them. This is an acceleration program, not a remedial program. Well, they’re both acceleration programs.  Of course, they are! 

There is something though, I get it, about being a woman in a mixed acceleration program that might feel different for the women. I understand why the first instinct is to say, ‘’why am I being fixed?’’ There is something about women’s programs that enables women to get to the core issues for them faster. There is a vulnerability that they can show much earlier because it’s ‘’just us girls,’’ for lack of a better phrase.  And so, I do teach both mixed programs and women’s programs. I have taught some just-men programs too.  We try to get away from this, but I am able to see the differences in willingness to take a risk, to try something, to express something. 

One of the things that gets expressed in the women’s programs is that many women say, ‘’Oh my gosh, I thought that was my problem.  I didn’t realize this is a common experience for women.’’  Well, if you think that this is something that has to do with you as an individual, a deficit you have, a problem and challenge that only you suffer from, that’s very different from realizing, ‘’Oh my gosh, all ten of you women have this issue or 30 of you women have dealt with this over the course of a year.’’ That feels very different. You feel much more empowered to make some changes.

Now, you might be discouraged that everybody’s dealing with it, but we can have that conversation. So, we are always pushing for greater inclusion.  It’s not just gender. It is race. It’s also socioeconomic status. You know, unfortunately, at these wonderful institutions, certain kinds of folks choose them and certain kinds of folks are admitted to them. And people with certain kinds of backgrounds are just more appealing, people assume, for companies to hire.

And so that’s another place we’re really putting a lot of effort. Our Laidlaw scholars are just incredible women who otherwise may not have had the opportunity or the ability to pursue a degree here. And I think it’s a marvelous program.

Chris: Yeah. It’s also true.  A big portion of why more people are being represented and can afford to go here is scholarships.

Kathleen: Absolutely!  We are all so privileged to be here, but just our neighbors are, you know, the neighborhood of Lisson Grove is quite a deprived area of London.  It’s right here.  What can we do? I think, as you’re saying, the scholarships will help us reach out, then we have to get the word out that we’ve got these fabulous people here. Yeah. Anyway, they’re just a joy! And it’s nice to see. I mean, there have been a lot of years when to be really honest, I felt like my job was to teach privileged people how to be more effective.  And there’s only so much purpose that can serve.

Chris: As a former investment banker, I think I feel much better doing what I do on the environmental side.

Kathleen: I mean there’s real purpose in this kind of thing. Right?

Chris: I hear that it’s easier to get out of bed in the morning if you feel like you’re doing something good and you are…

Kathleen:  …making a contribution.


Section Seven: Climate Allyship

Chris: Absolutely!  But we’re talking about gender equality and also racial diversity. Could you talk a little bit about your work on allyship and intersectionality and, particularly, thinking about how we might be able to pull it into climate? Is there a role for climate allyship? 

Kathleen: That’s a really great question.  I’m not sure I’ll hit it exactly right. Allyship is really important.  I think that there are these movements, and I know they’re a little bit controversial. The U.N. has HeForShe, for instance. Right? And that’s about men standing up for the rights of women.  I think some people find that controversial in the sense of, why do we women need the men to stand next to us?  It’s about people in power helping those who have less voice. And I think that that’s what allyship is, isn’t it? That’s all it is. And I think there’s lots more work we could be doing there. 

It’s hard, though.  The psychology of human beings is that we’re more comfortable with people who are like us. I think that’s obvious, right? The concept is birds of a feather flock together.  And so, I have more women in my network than you probably have.  Right? You have more investment bankers than I would have.  You’re a cyclist, you’ve got more cyclists, if you’re married, you’ve got more married people.  I think it feels more comfortable. And so, reaching across those, what we call fault lines, reaching across fault lines is hard.  

Knowing what to say is difficult if I’m thinking about how climate issues affect all of us, and the underserved more than anyone, right? If I think about the places that are getting hotter and people don’t have the ability to move from those places, they don’t have a second home they can jet off to. It affects everyone, but it affects people in disadvantaged communities more than anybody. Some of us who are in the majority, I think, don’t feel as comfortable reaching out to those communities.  There’s a tension there between helping people own their power or helping support them with resources, and stepping in and speaking for other communities.

I don’t know if I’m making this clear or not, but I think that one of the difficulties of allyship is that I want to be here to help you in the way that you want to be helped, the way that you need your voice to be heard.  The woman from Barbados who spoke so, so powerfully, you know, she shouldn’t have to be a super inspirational speaker to get the world to say you have a need and we have to meet it. But this is the world in which we live.

You know, it’s interesting to me to wonder about conversations around family dinner tables.  I don’t know what yours are like. I know what mine are like. I think that there are real generational differences.  And so, as I’ve said, my kids are in their early twenties and they feel the crisis of the climate. They feel it. They learn about it in school in a way that it wasn’t present, certainly when I was in school.  They feel a sense of urgency.  They’re the ones who are advocating; they are encouraging me to change my habits, to buy an electric vehicle. Now they want me to buy a Tesla, and I’m not sure about that, but that’s a whole different thing.

I’m sort of squashed between them and my parents who are in their late seventies.  I don’t think my parents feel any of this climate pressure necessarily.  This is something you have to be a little bit present-minded and forward-thinking about. And I don’t think that they have that same sense of urgency. 

Yeah, I think that there is allyship and I think we, as grown-ups with power, should and could be doing lots more.  I would love more direction. Would that be helpful? 

Sometimes you think okay, ‘’Well I recycle.  Is that enough?’’ And you’re like, ‘’That’s not enough.’’ I compost my food waste, then that’s not enough. I don’t drive my car. I don’t use a dryer. What else should I be doing? So sometimes it’s about maybe I’m naive about this.  What else do I need to do? It’s about moving my investments, parking my investment money in places that are not polluting and companies that are not polluting the environment. I think it’s probably going to be along those lines. And that’s where an older generation can be very powerful, right? Because they hold resources like money and they have a voice. And so I think they can be better allies. I think grandparents could be better allies for the environment, for the younger generations. 

I don’t know if that’s a helpful answer or not, but I’ve learned a lot from my kids because their science curriculum looks very different and their social studies look very different from my curriculum growing up. Yeah, these are issues that are front and center for them.

Chris: Yeah!  I remember my son coming back from school maybe ten years ago. He’s 13 now, but ten years ago he came back from school talking about saving the polar bears. 

Kathleen: Nobody saves anything.

Chris: No, no.

Kathleen: I went to the zoo and threw things out there.  It was a totally different time. So, I think that this generation seems very much tuned in to this issue and feels a sense of crisis.  And this is influencing where their parents invest their money. Right. Influencing who their parents vote for, making sure that, you know, these kinds of issues at the top of the top of the agenda. I think that’s dinner table conversation. Yeah, I think it’s important.

Chris: Yeah. Yeah. And, as you said before, if it can influence business that takes care of 2/3 of the problem already.   So, if that’s what the grandparents can be doing that’s great.

Kathleen: I mean honestly, if you can get leaders of big companies, not just polluters, but financial institutions to decide that they’re going to make different decisions, that will make a huge impact on the world. I don’t think it’s going to be governments. I think they move slowly in their accountability. But I could be wrong. I do think there’s a huge role that business has to play.

Chris: Yeah.  It’s like the Inflation Reduction Act in the U.S. That’s a big step forward.


Section Eight: The importance of social media and PR in implementing climate solutions

Kathleen: It is. That’s actually a huge step forward!  It is a huge step forward!  So, you know the Inflation Reduction Act and I know the inflation reduction Act, but I’m not sure that even voters in the midterm could tell you three things that this administration has achieved in the two years that the Democrats have held the White House. I’m not sure I could give you three major pieces of legislation and the effect that they’re going to have moving forward. That’s a PR problem.

Chris: That’s a massive PR problem.  I was in in the US a couple of weeks ago in New York, and I was just having some dinner at night and the TV was on.  The ads were continually why you shouldn’t vote for the other guy, what he did, and then another ad on why you shouldn’t vote for that first guy because they’re terrible.  There was nothing about why you should vote for me.

Kathleen: I get it!  There are a couple of things, right? We know that negativity moves people so that’s one.  We know that people also like drama. I think they’re really hooked on drama. It looks dramatic.  Why do they watch these crazy television shows?  It’s all about the drama.  But I also think that the administrations and the parties themselves need to do a much better job of educating the populace about why they were pushing for this, what the effects are going to be, and then celebrating the successes of those things as they come up. Maybe they are just busy, but too often people are just not aware of how their lives are being positively affected, and the lives of their grandchildren. 

I mean, small wins. What is it: if you want change to happen, celebrate your small wins.  Are we celebrating our small wins?  Maybe that’s part of it, too. We need to be more positive in how we’re approaching this.

Maybe there aren’t any small wins. Maybe that’s the problem. The temperature keeps climbing, so it’s hard to have a party about that, you know?

Chris: Yeah, And it’s surely the boat stamp on that. Democrats and Republicans are doing what they think will win and that is pretty much the same thing, which is slagging off the other guy.

Kathleen: Yes, for sure. 

Chris: So why does a more positive message not seem to be something that’ll break through? I mean we could be saying, ‘’Listen, we’ve done this. It’s amazing. Yes, we’re transforming the economy, guys.’’

Kathleen: Yes. I guess part of it is that.  Yes, 100%. I think, in the ads themselves, the negativity seems to be driving people to come out. They’re angry. They’re going to come out. But I do think there’s just something in general about consistent messaging about what the Inflation Reduction Act really is: like, ‘’Here are all the things that are included in here.’’  I don’t see it very often. Do they use social media very much? I mean, I’d like to see them, whether it’s Twitter or Facebook or whatever it might be, I’d like to see them just tell us what’s in it that I can grab on to and convince other people they should vote for you again because you’ve done this marvelous thing. And I just don’t see enough. I don’t see enough. Maybe it’s because people don’t like politics.  They like horse races.

Chris: Yeah. And people. Yeah, people like people. Have you ever heard of the Loan Program Office in the US? 

Kathleen: No.

Chris: It was one of those things no one ever heard of and then they put in the new leader, Jigar Shah.  He was an entrepreneur then he ran a big fund.  He’s on social media all the time. And now a lot of people have heard of this really obscure office that actually does an awful lot of work because there’s a guy in there running it who’s really good at social media.

Kathleen: But this is it, right? I mean, this is so discouraging, Chris, because what you’re really saying is it’s not hard to draw attention to it, but you have to understand how social media works and you have to decide that it’s important for people to know what you’re doing. Right. I think you’re absolutely right.

Chris: But you have to put a face to it.

Kathleen: That’s right!

Chris: You have to say, ‘’Hey, this is what we’re doing. This is why we’re doing it. This one is important.’’

Kathleen: That’s right.

Chris: And he’s really good in front of a camera.  He’s succinct. He gets the point across and he’s very skilled at this.

Kathleen: So, the United States is a country of 350 million people. You can find more than one guy.  It’s not like there isn’t a pool of people who can do it. But I think you’re right that the right messenger is critical.  You need a messenger who understands the various modes of getting the message out.  I think it’s essential.   Most issues are struggling from this. Right? I don’t hear that many good messengers. I don’t see that many people on the Sunday shows who are talking about these kinds of issues. 

And now, my fear is that COVID put climate back. Recessions are looming. That’s going to put climate back. In this country, we’re going to move toward austerity pretty soon. And what is that going to mean for climate? I worry sometimes because the climate should be the number one priority and it’s not. I just keep thinking it goes further and further down.

Chris: But to go back to some of the core ideas, do you, and this I’m sure there’s going to be quite a hard question, but do you think there’s a link between the inequalities and the barriers that women have been facing and people of color have been facing in the workplace and the sustainability of our business practices?

Kathleen: I think that in general inequality, growing inequality, economic inequality is a huge issue and we’ve seen the backlash of that issue, right? That growing income inequality means people feel uncertain and when people feel uncertain, they tend to vote for authoritarian right-wing authoritarians. Right-wing authoritarians are not necessarily predisposed to saving the economy. I don’t know. I don’t think so. So far, we haven’t seen it. Maybe left-wing authoritarians might.

Chris: On the extreme left they will say they will do. But again, anyone in any extreme always does tend to massively overpromise and say, we’ll give you the world and it’ll cost you nothing and everything will be all sunshine and rainbows. They promise. They promise. They promise. And in any extreme, this is what they do.

Kathleen: You are right!  It’s not a right-left issue. 

But the other thing is, am I wrong in saying this?  This is a very naïve perspective, and hopefully, I’ll answer the question at some point, but sustainability and climate change feel long-term–like they will extend. Of course, it’s like planting an acorn, right? When is that tree actually going to grow? Well beyond your lifetime!  Sustainability issues maybe have that flavor. It feels like I’m not going to see any benefit from this or the benefit is so uncertain.  It’s so far away that it’s easy to tackle something that’s much more urgent and immediate. Right? I think the climate crisis is urgent, but somehow something else feels a little bit more urgent. Politicians, of course, are worried about the next year or two years, three years, four years. They’re not necessarily worried about the next ten years or 25 years.

I don’t know if that’s true or not, but I do wonder about that sometimes.  Sustainability and the climate crisis seem very long-term. You have to make changes today that may not have an impact for quite a while, but I could be wrong.

Chris: For example, like in the Inflation Reduction Act, you do have large areas which have got big amounts of investment for the producing of gigawatt batteries, electric cars, the building of whole new industries, which will have a one, two, three-year impact.

Kathleen: Fair enough. There’s all this green economy stuff that you can actually do all at one time. Fair enough.

I wonder if that’s a bias that people have.  If they’re not really familiar with all the policies, do they come in thinking if it’s a climate crisis or sustainability issues, it feels much more long term and it feels beyond the power of the individual?

Chris: That individual I mentioned, who is now running the Loan Programs Office, well one of the messages he always had was, this is the greatest wealth-creation opportunity of this generation.  People need to think about as an opportunity.

Kathleen: Yes, that’s right.

Chris: It’s a real opportunity.  I think more and more people are seeing it as big tech now that the world is changing. But if that messaging could go out a little bit more, it could have an impact.

Kathleen: Yeah, you’re right.  And the counter-messaging or the accompanying message is about how much money the government, certainly in the US and that’s the example we’re using, spends subsidizing energy: subsidizing oil and gas.  I have heard criticism that you have to subsidize these other kinds of energy sources.  Well, it’s already subsidized. I mean, you just don’t have the information, right?  That’s the problem.


Section Nine: Returning to questions of diversity, perceptions, and authenticity

Kathleen: Do I see a link between the difficulties and hurdles that women and other minority groups face in sustainability?

Chris: Maybe I can frame it differently.  What do you think the impact of greater diversity on a board would be, or in management leadership would be, on the approach to sustainability?

Kathleen: Oh, that’s interesting. Okay, so maybe that is the better way for me to think about it.

So, I think we make an assumption that gender or racial or socioeconomic diversity will bring a diversity of thought.  That’s not always true, but people’s lived experiences matter and they shape our view of the world, right?  My experience in the world may look slightly different from yours, and somebody else’s may look very different from ours.  When people are empowered at the table to have those conversations, they will bring different kinds of perspectives. They’re having different conversations with their friends and their family.

Will it change the path of sustainability decisions that are made inside the organization? I think it could. I think consumers have a huge impact to play as well.  So we get back to who’s got the power?  Who’s got all the money?  Can a more diverse board make a difference? Probably, yeah, because you see things differently. You’re willing to challenge that that’s not a fact; that’s an opinion; that’s an outdated assumption; that’s not true anymore; what I know is true is that this is what’s going on.  I think challenging assumptions is a fundamental thing that boys can do when they have these conversations about things. 

Again, a lot of it is going to be about consumers. It’s going to be about regulations, about reporting.   What we have to do here at London Business School, and I’m sure you know this, is we’ve got to track our carbon. We’ve got to look at our environmental effect, at the impact of our decisions on the environment here. Obviously, it’s not inside my domain or I’d have better language for it, but those kinds of things make a difference to companies, right? They have to make a difference.

I was talking to somebody in a big consulting firm recently and they were taking a big trip to one of the European capitals and they were going to send 200 employees.  They are not going. They’re not going because they said not only is it expensive and a recession is coming–our clients are going to go through a recession and they don’t want to see us spending all this money like we’re drunken sailors—but also, it’s really bad for our climate numbers.  Our website is all about the climate and we’re not living it.  So those things all make a difference. 

Now, was that a board decision, a senior management decision? It may have been. Was it because they were a little bit nervous about how their clients were going to judge some of their decisions? It definitely was. 

Chris: And was that individual on board with that idea? 

Kathleen: Oh yeah.  You’re absolutely right. I mean, ‘’we cannot be seen loading hundreds of people.’’ 

Chris: Slightly different: whether ‘’we cannot be seen’’ or whether ‘’we cannot.’’ They are two completely different concepts.

Kathleen: And yet sometimes they can have the same outcome.

So I hear you. I know. Listen, I’d rather everybody was passionate about this issue, but if they’re not going to be passionate, they can at least be responsive to other people’s passions. And I think that’s okay. I may not be passionate about some direction of regulation, but the regulation will make me move in that direction anyway. Right? You provide the right incentives and we’ll all do it. So, if my clients won’t come to me and it won’t line my pockets and I won’t have the same bonus at the end of the year… 

It’s okay if I’m not there yet.  The climate doesn’t care why I’m doing it.  It just wants me to stop getting on jet planes and flying around.  I do think that you want some people who are advocates and passionate. You want other people to just stop doing bad things.


Section Ten: the value of experiments and the SHIFT model

Chris: Can we talk about small experiments in high-value behaviours?

Kathleen: Oh, yeah!  What about it?  I’m happy to talk about experiments. 

Chris: Can we talk about experiments as a kind of strategy for someone who is in a workplace that may or may not quite mesh with their friends and the world?

Kathleen: Great. Yeah, we have an attitude here at London business school in our Degree Programs, but more than that in our Executive Ed programs, that the only way you’re going to transform organizations is if leaders transform themselves and their teams.  And the vehicle for doing that, the mechanism, is experimentation.  

I can’t change a particular organization, but I can change what’s in my control.  There’s a great little Venn diagram that I stole from someplace that’s got these two circles, and it’s what I control and what’s important. And there’s that space in the middle.  People control a lot of things at work.  Even middle managers control and they have to decide what’s important.  And sometimes it’s not just what’s in my KPIs, it’s just important to me as a human being. And that could be how I take care of my people. It could be about the environment. And there’s that overlap. And so are there small experiments you can run? Could you try things?  

In my degree course, right now the students are working on their ‘’what if?’’ assignment.  The assignment is taking some concept from class and going in to work with a hypothesis: if I do this, then this will happen. You can deal with anything you want with that kind of language.   So, if I go with a different vendor, then this will happen; if I enable my people to come up with ideas for how they want to improve sustainability for this month or if this year’s the year of climate change, what are we going to do inside of our own team to support climate action? If I do this with my people, then this will happen. If I recognize and celebrate when someone does the right thing when it comes to climate action at work, whatever that is–and you should tell me what that could look like.  Then if I reward it, I will get more of it. If we get more of it, then that will reduce our waste, whatever it might be. Right?

I love the idea of experiments.  I think people are more likely to do something different if they think it’s an experiment than if they think it’s a project or initiative.  I just think there’s something about experiments that means you can not find success but you learn something, you keep moving.

Chris: And again, it’s the power of language.

Kathleen: It’s always the power of language!   And what we also want people to do every day, or as often as possible, is think about how they could do things slightly differently and challenge why they’re doing it the way that they do it.  And maybe that’s the climate story as well: if I could change one small thing, if I can experiment with walking to work, you know, leaving my car at home one more day a week, what would that mean? Then this will happen, right? I will feel better about my contribution to climate change or whatever it’s going to be.

Chris: Yeah. You know, this is a really great insight.  Conscious that we’re running short on time, there are a couple of things I’d like to wrap up with?  One, I don’t think I could let you go without asking you about your SHIFT model. I wonder if you could just talk a little bit about that and then, finally, I’ll just ask you for a little bit of advice for our LBS fraternity. But first, if you just tell us a little bit about the shift model.

Kathleen: So ‘’SHIFT’’ is a model I put together a few years ago that was based on some of the research I was doing and some of the research that exists in negotiation.  It really is a very easy model for knowing how to negotiate. So it’s five letters and it tells you everything you need to know.  I should preface this by saying don’t tell Francois because he pays us to teach a semester’s worth of this kind of stuff.  The course is marvelous and, actually, one of our most popular negotiation electives. And it’s because most of it is practice and debriefs in the classrooms. It’s a wonderful course!  And you can also have the SHIFT model at your fingertips.

So SHIFT stands for:

  • Separate other people’s interests (what they need) from their positions (professed outcomes)
  • Hear the other person, rather than simply waiting to talk
  • Invest in the relationship, and value each other
  • Frame negotiations as a problem to be solved.
  • Think creativity to find new solutions 

Separate interests from positions.  Someone comes at you and says, I want to go to Miami for our winter holiday and that’s a position. If you ask me why I want to go to Miami then those are my interests. I want a sunnier climate. I want to go, you know, go to the clubs. I want a high-energy kind of place to visit.  Well, if I know those are three things that you want, I might suggest another place we can go to, right? Maybe it’ll be Austin, Texas.  Maybe it’ll be San Juan, Puerto Rico.  So, separate the interests from the positions because there are lots of ways to skin a cat. 

Here, the other side is that negotiation really is about understanding where the other party is coming from to understand what their interests are. And so you’re always asking questions and you’re trying to listen for their answers so you can understand what their underlying interests really are, where some of the sensitive, sore points are, and where some of the backstops might be. For instance, I often use an example of why this is so important.  I often will have negotiators actually prop up their phones and video record themselves negotiating and what they will see is when they’re talking, they’re looking up. When the other person is talking, they’re looking down. They’re not really listening. I mean, they’re trying to do a little bit, but they’re really thinking about the next thing they want to say. Right. That’s what we as humans do.  So, you know, the old saying is you’ve got two ears and one mouth.  You should listen twice as much as you talk.  So that’s the next step here. 

The third step is to invest in the relationship.  It’s amazing how much more we’re willing to give to somebody, even when it’s painful, when it’s someone that we care about. Even rational people who do deals for a living will often hold back more from someone they don’t like or give a little bit more to someone that they like. Great. It’s just human nature, right?  We tend to be a little bit more generous if we like someone. So the more we invest in relationship, the more the other side likes us, the more they might give us, the more they trust us, the more questions they might ask us, right, the harder they may work. So that’s an important one for moving the conversation forward.

F is for frame.  Negotiation is a problem to be solved. This is research I did very early in my career where I gave two groups of people the same negotiation exercise and the same details, but for one group it was called negotiation and for the other it was a problem-solving task.  Everything about the exchange was different, right?  People who were told they were going to be negotiating anticipated disliking the other party more, they were less optimistic about the possibility of getting a deal.  When they came into the room, where do you think they put their chairs?  

Chris:  Face to face when it was a negotiation.   Side by side when it was problem-solving. 

Kathleen: Right!  It’s amazing how it changes everything about how much you’re willing to share, what you’re willing to let go of when you’re much more focused actually on a problem to be solved.  And I would say most negotiations are a shared problem to be solved.  It’s a shared problem. If I didn’t need you and I could solve this problem alone you wouldn’t be here. Right?  So we obviously need something from one another.

Oftentimes, people who don’t like negotiation, if they think of it instead as a problem to be solved between the two of them, they’re much more likely to approach the negotiation and actually bring some creativity to them. And, you know, you had a career before this, so you know, you don’t use the word negotiate a lot in your negotiations because people get protective and aggressive when they use the word negotiation.  They think they have to kind of protect themselves, they might get exploited.  It raises a whole bunch of interesting questions. It’s language again.  The word negotiation makes people feel like there’s going to be some concessions. And when it’s a problem to be solved, it’s just you and me, our heads together.

Chris: But you still call the elective negotiation.

Kathleen: We do. We call it negotiation.  And I didn’t name it. Yeah, it’s always been that.

Chris: What would you call it?

Kathleen: I think it’s still called negotiation because it’s hard. But when I deal with you, I wouldn’t call it negotiation. Right? There are a few details I need to iron out with you.

Chris: I think the equivalent course at Yale is called ‘’Influence.’’

Kathleen: Yeah, we also have influence. You can use influence. I don’t like influence. I’ll tell you why: because I think–

Chris: Because it does have a negative connotation as well. 

Kathleen: It does, doesn’t it? It’s about getting my way. And actually, we always as human beings want to strike the balance between advocacy and inquiry.  Advocacy as influence, that’s trying to get you to change your mind. Inquiry is more trying to understand. And I think that inquiry is actually a huge piece of it. I think if there was a little bit less influence and a little bit more listening, a little less advocacy and a little bit more inquiry, I think you’d have breakthroughs more often.  But if you’re advocating all the time, you’re not really listening, right? 

You have to understand before you can actually formulate the solution that’s going to work for the other party. Otherwise, you’re just jamming them up with arguments.  Anyway, and then to think creatively, because I’ve said before, I think creativity is at the heart of all of it, right? So yeah, blue sky, right?  Break free of, “I want this, you want this,” and we’ll meet in the middle and instead think about it as a fresh sheet of paper.

What would we do differently?  I can’t promise you that we’re going to do that, but let’s start the thinking. Right?  Let’s start that. And you’re watching–what do they really care about?  Oh, this is telling me, saying what, about your interests?  Where do they get a really strong negative reaction when you try to push a point? Oh, that’s something that they don’t want, right? Easy stuff like this. But you’re trying to think creatively. You’re trying to find the white space where a deal might be possible or a solution to the problem might be found.

Chris: Brilliant! Yeah, it’s slightly contrary to what looks like game theory would suggest where you just try to put down numbers and try to get to know the optimal numerical outcome.

Kathleen: Yes, because it’s a prisoner’s dilemma game. So game theory is an approach to negotiation.  Of course, in a typical prisoner’s dilemma there’s no shadow of the future. Negotiation typically is a shadow of the future. Now if you and I are only going to negotiate once about the used car, you know, I’ll use all the numbers and I don’t care. I’m trying to win.  Right?  The single issue is price and I’ll never see you again. That’s a very specific kind of negotiation.  

COP 27, marriages, most negotiations are actually not of that flavor. Right? There is a shadow of the future.  And there are a number of things that game theory leaves out. One is communication. But you and I talk and we look at each other and I decide I like you and

I want you to do well and you persuade me that you need something in a way that I’m persuaded by.  You can change my belief about who has more power in this negotiation. Me or you, by the way, you show up in the kinds of things that you say. Game theory doesn’t account for that, right? Game theory doesn’t account for that, which is why a lot of economists call themselves behavioral economists now.  

I just call them psychologists. They’re just experienced psychologists but they prefer to be called behavioral economists.  Now, all of a sudden, it’s about experimental action. There are more than just two options.  It’s not just cooperative effect and you and I can actually coordinate around whether we’re going to cooperate or defect. Right. Because we can have a conversation about it. 

I can enter the negotiation saying I can’t wait to sit down with you and I really want to work with you and I think we can do something really powerful here.  I can raise your expectations about the possibility that a deal can be met and that will change the course of our negotiation. Right?

Chris: And a last question for you. So normally I ask for a little bit of advice for our audience, particularly looking at young leaders, people who are just leaving their MBA.  So what advice would you give them for getting into your particular field and why should they do it?

Kathleen: Which field?

Chris: Behavioral science.

Kathleen: Oh my gosh! Because knowing more about how people, think and what people think enables you to predict what people are going to do and that just makes you more effective. I mean, that goes with this point about making people more effective.  I’m not sure that I would tell everybody to go get a Ph.D. in psychology. I’m not sure that’s a great path for everybody, but having some basic psychology in your tool kit is extremely helpful. Again, people are– it’s what Dan Ariely calls predictably irrational.  

Predictably irrational.  There are 150 biases out there that we use to make decisions. We’re all using the biases and there are ways that you can kind of leverage those you want to.  Right? How do people in marketing and consumer behavior do this kind of stuff all the time? They know exactly how they should price something. Right? Is it more powerful to price something at 499 or at £5?  That’s just psychology. So, I think it’s a really powerful thing.

I would also say negotiate more, that life really is about negotiating and negotiating not to win, but to better understand where someone else is coming from.  Perspective-taking is actually the key to negotiating. It’s taking another person’s perspective, understanding what their interests are, and then using your creativity to come up with something that works for both of us. And so, negotiation, not as kind of a bludgeon, you’re bludgeoning the other side to make concessions to you, but really negotiation to understand what’s at issue. Having that kind of insight into the other side’s interests is what separates really good solutions, sustainable solutions from other kinds of agreements.

Chris: I have a million more questions. I could talk to you all day, but it has been an enormously good time! Thank you so much!

Kathleen: It was my pleasure!