President’s Perspective

The key to negotiating

Building meaningful, trusting relationships over time


William F. McKeon is the president and CEO of the Texas Medical Center. William F. McKeon is president and CEO of the Texas Medical Center (photo: Mark Mulligan/Houston Chronicle)
By William F. McKeon | August 29, 2019

As president and CEO of the Texas Medical Center, I interact every day with other leaders from the institutions that comprise the largest medical city in the world. Because I work with such a diverse group of constituents—more than 60 member institutions, representing more than 100,000 employees—I often reflect on an experience I had nearly a decade ago that influences my approach today.

The Harvard University Program on Negotiation taught me important lessons that help me to understand the unique needs of each of our members. Before the three-day program, participants prepare for roles they’ll play in simulated negotiations. The exercise forces everyone to take a position and argue for it, regardless of their personal convictions.

For example, one person might represent an offshore drilling company while another makes the case for environmental protection. As you might imagine, the facilitators encouraged us to defend our positions vigorously. But we soon saw how that passion led us to move swiftly away from any chance at reaching a mutually beneficial outcome. We became entrenched, and our own opinions became obstacles to progress. I learned a great deal about myself and how to better engage in productive negotiations.

The lessons I learned long ago continue to help me better understand the Texas Medical Center institutions I work with in this unique ecosystem. Some CEOs and leadership teams are naturally collegial, while others may view collaboration as dilutive or contributing to a loss of full control. Fortunately, the Harvard program identified these different styles of negotiation, and I often find myself recognizing them in the course of a discussion.

So what’s the key to negotiating? The answer seems simple, but it requires a great deal of commitment and much more time than a three-day program. My life experiences have taught me that it is most important to patiently build meaningful, trusting relationships over time. In both our personal and professional lives, it is the richness of these relationships that determines our happiness and success. I recognize that this seems obvious, but so often I observe people either intentionally or unintentionally creating barriers that obstruct the path to forming sound and productive relationships.

I continue to learn every day. Some of the most challenging situations I face are often the most exciting and satisfying to work through. The journey continues as I learn more about myself and the incredibly diverse talent at all levels of the Texas Medical Center.

 

William F. McKeon
President and Chief Executive Officer
Texas Medical Center




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