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How Kamala Harris won the case for the people of California

The election of Kamala Harris into office is a huge milestone for women, particularly women of colour. She served as District Attorney of San Francisco, Attorney General of California and State Senator, before being elected to the US vice-presidency. There is so much to learn from her trailblazing career, especially when it comes to negotiation.

In her 2019 book, “The Truths We Hold”, Harris describes her battle for the people of California, immediately after she entered office as California’s Attorney General in 2010. Following the 2008 housing market crash, her goal was to prevent further foreclose

sure and procure a homeowner relief package from the banks. Those same banks had been responsible for giving out unsustainable loans, and for the packaging and repackaging schemes that created and eventually burst the housing bubble that led to the crisis.

How did she achieve securing a package of 20 billion USD, when the starting offer was 2-4 billion?

In her book, Harris describes a huge amount of pressure from fellow politicians, the banks, and other interest groups. She was asked to cave in on her dem

ands for a fairer package than initially proposed, threatened with political punishment, and faced with the fact that failure to strike a deal would mean trouble for homeowners. No deal meant no relief to their debt and foreclosure on their homes.

However, she refused to sit at the negotiation table where the game seemed “sold”. Along with other AGs, she decided instead to initiate an investigation into the actions of the banks that led to the crisis.

There were three important elements to her approach:

A. Turn up the heat by strengthening her BATNA

By deciding to pursue an investigation into the actions of the banks, Harris was improving her BATNA (her Best Alternative To Negotiated Agreement). The banks were not the only ones who held leverage on the deal. It needed to be made clear that they stood a great deal to lose if agreement were not reached.

Improving your BATNA is particularly important when you are faced with a perceived power imbalance, or when you feel your cards are not good enough to reach a favourable outcome.

B. Remaining independent by stepping away from the table

By declining to join the talks in the first place, Harris was making a clear statement- she does not accept the ground rules of the negotiation as dictated. This means she is not entirely bound by them, and they must change if other parties are interested in her joining discussions. As Attorney General of a large state who had seen significant damage in the crisis, striking a deal without her and those AGs who joined her would have little meaning.

C. Cutting out the middleman

Eventually, the banks showed a willingness to re-open negotiations on the size of the homeowner debt-relief package. When negotiations stalled, and seemed to have hit an impasse, Harris called the chair of JP Morgan directly, cutting through the chain of junior-level negotiation representatives.

By hammering out their points of view directly with one another, they were able to get a better picture of the needs and expectations of each side. Eventually a deal was struck, and a relief package of 20 billion was decided upon, rather than the 2-3 billion package initially proposed.

Interested in learning more from great Negotiatresses? Check out the “Negotiatresses- Real Stories” section of the blog!

See you next post!

Yasmine Guerin

Founder of Negotiatress

Originally posted on January 10, 2021 by Negotiatress


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