Mori Taheripour, BRING YOURSELF

Mori Taheripour, BRING YOURSELF

“I learn something from all of my students. I think they teach me far more than I ever teach them.” Mori Taheripour, negotiation expert and professor at the Wharton school, joins Zibby to discuss her first book, Bring Yourself. Mori shares the best lessons from her seventeen years of teaching, why the secret to being a great negotiator is simply being a better person, and which of her own negotiations have been the toughest. Mori and Zibby also talk about how imposter syndrome can affect even those at the top of their field and the ways in which Mori’s multiple sclerosis diagnosis fully transformed her approach to life.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Mori. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss Bring Yourself: How to Harness the Power of Connection to Negotiate Fearlessly.

Mori Taheripour: Thank you so much for having me. I’m really excited about this conversation.

Zibby: When I started reading your book, I was having PTSD flashbacks to my business school negotiation class myself. I was probably the girl that you referenced who capitulated way too easily to the more aggressive man in the negotiation. Why don’t you tell listeners, in general, what your book is about? What made you decide to write it?

Mori: It is the anthesis to most negotiations books. I’ve been teaching negotiations for a little over seventeen years now, almost eighteen years, at the Wharton School. I never would’ve imagined myself writing a book. Actually, I never would’ve imagined teaching. Those are two things that I now have done that I never would’ve thought I would ever do, but that’s a whole different story. It’s really interesting that you start the conversation this way because I find that this is one of those subjects where either, A, people take it because they think they’re horrible at it and this is just a practical skill they’re going to need or, B, they have PTSD. They have this fear of it. They’re like, I’m just going to throw myself into it and get over it. Maybe then there’s the C category of people who think they’re the world’s greatest negotiator, and so this is going to be a breeze exactly what I want to do. After teaching it for quite some time and realizing that my philosophy around it is so different, that this is really something that we do all the time, that this is — first of all, it’s a learned skill. Nobody’s born a great negotiator. Some things may come naturally to some folks, but it’s truly a learned skill. More importantly, it’s something we do all the time. We just don’t even think that that’s what we’re doing, but it’s literally every conversation you have with yourself, every decision you make, husband, kids, dogs, merging onto traffic on the highway. These are all literally negotiations that we have every day.

It’s that people associate it with something that’s transactional or has been really difficult. They’ve been taken advantage of. There’s all this fear. I thought, you know, if people just looked at themselves in all those different aspects of their life that they actually negotiate really well but don’t even give themselves credit for that being a negotiation, these are transferrable skills. My book was really meant to be accessible. It was supposed to take the fear away from negotiations and make it less about a transaction that could go wrong, but more about everyday conversations that we have. It’s really a way for us to speak our voice, to speak our mind, to better get to know ourselves. A big part of this book is a journey. Actually, it reads like an autobiography. It’s my story and the story of a lot of my students. It’s to empower my students and my readers and to say, really take a look at yourself. It’s not the world that makes you a bad negotiator. It’s not that you don’t have the skills for it. It’s that you sort of get in your own way. If you can clear up some of those cobwebs and deal with some of those scars, then everybody can be a great negotiator. That was really the premise of it, is just to tell a story and make it accessible and hopefully empower people.

Zibby: I’m interested in discussing both some negotiation tips and also your story. On the negotiation side, you referenced quite often, the importance of really being true to yourself and using your emotional intelligence to inform your negotiation tactics and the authenticity, bringing a piece of yourself to whatever the discussion is, and then also sometimes overcoming parts of your personality like the people-pleasing tendency that so many of us have, or maybe so many people I know, or maybe just me. Whatever. I was curious, how exactly do we take our personalities and the strengths of those when the person we’re negotiating with doesn’t want to listen to that? I can be as empathetic and well-reasoned, but there are some people who, they don’t respond well to that. How do you handle something like that?

Mori: I talk about negotiations as this multi-step process, four-stage process. The first one is really what we all know to be important, preparation. Everybody knows negotiations, you have to be well-prepared. Know your facts. Know what you want. Then the second stage of that is what we call information exchange. That’s when you first get to know somebody or you first sit down with them if you already know them. This is where you express your intentionality for what it is that you’re about to discuss or an exchange that’s about to take place. It’s really that getting-to-know-you phase. It’s where we build rapport. It’s where we build connections with people. People either don’t really know that this stage really exists or they don’t spend enough time there and sort of breeze through it and go right to what that third stage is, what everybody associates with negotiations, which in my mind is actually the least important. That’s actually the bargaining or the negotiation space where it’s the more transactional conversation. The last stage is just whether you make a deal or you don’t make a deal. That second stage, information exchange, is probably the reason I love teaching this subject and probably the reason why I love negotiations, because that’s where you infuse humanity to this process.

The longer you can hold the conversation there and the dialogue there, then the easier that third phase is going to be that’s the most difficult, which is usually about money or it’s transactional, all the hard stuff. That second phase where you first, let’s say, meet somebody, it’s where you want to make sure that this person understands that they’re not just there meant to be the — this isn’t the road to an outcome that you want. This is really a journey that you want to sort of stay in and enjoy. It’s curiosity. It’s wanting to know somebody not for the sake of doing a deal with them, but just for the sake of getting to know them. I really find that this is that place where you have to be authentic because people know when you’re not. If you really want to show that you’re interested in somebody, you can’t ask them a question and then look at your phone to see if somebody’s texted you. It’s where we have to, with all our authenticity, show up and actually be interested and curious about people, about whoever this individual is, whether they’re a father or a mother, their interests. The beauty of Zoom these days is that we see so much in the background of people that we normally wouldn’t see because a lot of these conversations were in boardrooms or conference rooms or offices. Now it’s personal. Now you have all of this information with which to create a conversation. Who’s not interested? It’s such a privilege to be in somebody’s living room and bedroom or family room. Here they are giving you a piece of themselves, and you don’t pay attention?

If you actually dedicated yourself to enjoying this journey of getting to know somebody as opposed to thinking, this is the means to that end, then I think it changes everything. Your question was then, what about the other person? What if they don’t want to do this? I find that most people, if not all people, like to be seen. They like to feel important. They want to feel like they’re somebody more than just their job or their title or their position, that they’re a real human being. If we can see somebody, if we can focus on them, again, with clear intent — this has got to be authentic — then I feel like people open up. The minute they open up and the minute you’re engaged in this conversation, building rapport, connecting with somebody, then by the time you get to that third stage, which is usually the most painful, that everything’s sort of changed. You’ve connected with somebody. You’ve built a tie with somebody that goes well beyond just the deal that you’re about to make. People become more empathic. People become more interested in maybe your needs and their needs. Your intentions are better and, I would say, less pinpointed on just the deal that you’re making, but really about humanity and about relationships. I think that’s the secret. Embrace this moment of getting to know someone. Once you do that, then I think everything changes. Even the most difficult, hard-nosed negotiators are human beings at the end of the day.

Zibby: Does that advice change if you’re negotiating with your child?

Mori: No. Actually, no. Their powers go well beyond. I have to say they are probably the best negotiators. That’s because they do that so well naturally. They’re naturally curious. They come in with little scars and bad experiences, so there’s less biases. They come in with a clean state. That clean slate is that of curiosity. That’s what makes them so brilliant. You can’t help it. All the questions, their emotional intelligence — they know when Mom is in a bad mood, so they’re going to ask Dad. They pay attention. That’s why they’re so good. As we get older, we lose a little bit of that magic.

Zibby: Yes, I feel like I’m constantly getting a run for my money. That’s for sure. You mentioned in the book, your background and having come over from Iran when you were about eight years old. Later in the book you said something like you’re worried you’re still a disappoint to your parents that you didn’t become a doctor. I’m thinking to myself, oh, my gosh, she’s a Wharton professor. She’s written this book. All this career success, and you’re still sort of doubting yourself. Tell me a little about that.

Mori: Hello, imposter syndrome. It was hard to talk about it in the book. I’m a really private person. This was a really self-revealing experience for me, quite cathartic, actually, because a lot of these things I don’t much talk to people about, nor really confronted myself. I do. I remember very clearly, my graduation day at Wharton. I was on stage. I was actually giving the commencement speech. I’m graduating with honors. All these accomplishments, you would think I would be at the apex of my career at that point. I looked out. I saw my parents sitting in the distance. Very quickly, this feeling of, I bet they’re still disappointed, it just came over me. I always talk about imposter syndrome being that guest that you want to leave, and they don’t leave. No matter what you do, they just kind of hang around. It gets you at times where you least expect it. What that tells me is that it’s the stories we tell ourselves and the language that has become so routine for me that I have to do everything in my power — even at that point where I’ve achieved some level of success, something to be proud of, it’s still that little girl in the back of my mind that’s saying, yeah, but they really left for you. They really wanted you to be a doctor. Here you are. This is selfish. This is something you’re doing for yourself. You’re still not what they wanted you to be. That’s why it’s so hard. It’s so hard, breaking that self-talk and confronting it and really learning how to retell the story. In that moment, it had to be really quick because I was like, this is the last moment you want to feel sorry for yourself or feel like you’re a disappointment. It gets you at the most unexpected times, so you have to just be really good at saying, no, not right now, guest. No. I’m going to close the door. You’re not allowed in right now. Just that self-work, which is hard.

Zibby: It is hard. Have you discussed this with your parents?

Mori: I have. Unfortunately, they’re both in early-stage dementia now.

Zibby: I’m so sorry.

Mori: That’s hard in and of itself. I think it was work for me to do. I don’t know, if somebody even tells you something different, if it really matters because that’s sort of external again. It’s the internal stuff that you have to really change.

Zibby: You’re absolutely right. Wow, this is great. Getting a little therapy. This is helpful for me too. Thank you very much. You also wrote about your MS diagnosis and what you do to take care of your health and fitness and how you’ve never been fitter and that, in turn, has lessened the resurgence. That’s not the right word. The flairs of when it comes back. You wrote that people would be shocked to even learn about it because you never talk about it. Why keep it so private? Then how do you feel now? Are you still following the same tactics? Are they still working? I found myself very concerned reading the book. I’m like, how is she now?

Mori: I was diagnosed in 2010. I have not yet had a relapse. I kept it private because I think I never wanted people to see me first as somebody who had MS, but really see me for who I was. I didn’t want the judgement. I didn’t want people, again, to tell a story that was different than the one I was telling myself. Outside of that first part where I got diagnosed by a doctor who clearly was not the right doctor for me, and then I moved on to find the doctor that I’m with now, I’ve never felt sorry for myself. Seriously, in a lot of ways, it was a blessing. I know people say that, but I really mean this. Before all this, I used to think that I was selfish if my family needed me or something and I really wanted to go to the gym and work out or whatever space I carved out for myself. Now I’ve learned that, actually, that’s not selfish at all. In some ways, it’s survival. It’s self-love. It’s all those things that we so need just to replenish ourselves.

The book was, again, really hard in that way because it wasn’t something I talked about. My closest family didn’t know about this. Outside of my sister, brother, maybe nephews, and parents, nobody really knew. I never talked about it. I decided to just come right out and put it out there for the world, but I was ready. I said, first of all, this might help people who just get the diagnosis and do what I did. In my mind, I associated somebody with MS being in a wheelchair or having to be so dependent on people. I’m everything but. I thought, Mori, this is that opportunity to tell those people that it doesn’t have to be that way. There’s so much hope. There’s so much progress. There’s so much in medicine that we’ve seen that really help those of us with MS. The funniest thing is that most days, I don’t even remember. I think it’s because I feel so good. My non-negotiables are my workouts. I will not forgo my fitness or take that time for myself that I carve out. This has given me the courage to do that without punishing myself for it. I’m so glad I did it. I hope it’s helped people. Changing my mindset really helped me. I think it was actually everything.

Zibby: Wow. What is your workout of choice? Out of curiosity.

Mori: I really love boxing, to be honest with you. You just feel really powerful. If you’re really angry, you can sort of imagine that person. It gets out the anger, but it’s fun. It’s athletic. I love everything. I’m one of those people that loves push-ups. Who does that? I like lifting, all of it. I think it’s the endorphins. I was never very athletic, so feeling like I’m that — I just turned fifty. Feeling that way at the age of fifty feels really good. I think anything you can give me that makes me feel actually really good about being in my body, I really love. I do love boxing. I used to love SoulCycle for the same reason. You go in their dark room, music. I just forgot. I forgot about everything outside of that place. I love all things workout.

Zibby: That’s great. I feel like I’ve been a part of every workout trend in history. I’m forty-five. I feel like I started with aerobics with my mom. I’ve done everything from step to slide to just whatever came next.

Mori: All of it, spinning. What do you like? I’m just curious.

Zibby: I basically barely worked out last year, so I’m trying to get back to where I was. My current thing is a mix of cardio HIIT classes and strength training. I’m hoping that works better.

Mori: I love that, what you just said, because I just realized that, oh, we don’t have to actually do it for that long. It could be quick. It’s efficient.

Zibby: That’s the advice I got. I’m sticking with the twenty, thirty — yesterday, it was twenty minutes, but I was drenched in sweat. I couldn’t even do my next podcast. I was so sweaty. I was like, I have to be on my knees. That must have done something good, better than just sitting and doing another podcast.

Mori: It’s just that little bit of time. That’s all.

Zibby: What, for you personally, has been one of your toughest negotiations?

Mori: Probably, all the ones I’ve done with myself, I would say. I talk about this in the book. I started my first company in ’97 — I was quite young — and partnered with somebody that was much older than me. I, throughout that process, sort of gave away all my power because I was like, who am I? I’m so young. What do I know about this stuff? He’s got his MBA. He’s very smart. Throughout the course of those ten years, I just continued to fall back to his position and his interests. When I decided, finally — in my mind, I couldn’t fail, the whole parents thing. They knew you were going to fail. You can’t do that. That was never an option. At the time where I finally realized that I just wasn’t happy anymore — I didn’t feel whole. Entrepreneurship is hard enough. To do it and be miserable, I was like, this is ridiculous. I realized that part of the reason I was unhappy was because I didn’t even know who I was. I wasn’t doing anything because I wanted to do it. It was this robotic, almost — when I ended that relationship, it was not an overnight thing. It took a lot of negotiations with myself. If you do it, are you willing to take on this debt? What will that do to your life? If you do it, you may ruin this relationship. You may never know this person again. That would be the end of that. Are you willing to do that? What will your family think? All of those smaller conversations that, put together, were huge negotiations with myself may have been the most difficult because it touched on so many different things, my own values, whether I wanted to honor my own happiness, how important that was, financial things, parents. It was hard. It was the best, probably, outcome ever. Maybe I didn’t know it at the time. It’s been what I’ve learned a lot from, and not because I wasn’t battered and bruised. There are many, many scars to show for it. I learned so much. At the end of the day, I realized that it’s because I took my power back. Whatever mistakes were going to be associated with that, they were my own to make. I think that changed, in a lot of ways, the course of my life and the way I approach negotiations, actually, in general.

Zibby: In terms of your teaching and your day-to-day life — then I know we’re almost done — have there been students that have really taught you a lot about yourself or things you’ve learned from your students that maybe you hadn’t expected or students who have stuck out for you or just some sort of relationship that’s come out of your teaching career?

Mori: There are so many. The first thing is that being in classroom, I love so much. It’s the only place where I’m my most authentic self, first of all, but also where I forget everything that exists outside that classroom. You are just so present. That’s amazing. It’s also really exhausting because you come out and you’re emotionally drained. For those three hours, this is the only world that exists for you. The depth of connection as a result of that has taught me how important it is just to be present in your life and the way you really connect with people. We cry in class. We’re intimate in class. We’re vulnerable in class. It’s hard to believe. It’s sometimes the very first class of the semester. Part of that has taught me when, again, you see people and when you honor them and when you honor that moment and just being fully present in your life, how magical that is.

What my students have taught me, and particularly my undergrads, is that — we have a lot of complaints about this younger generation, but they’re so courageous. They just show up. They are unapologetic. They are everything that I wish I had been at their age. I can work with that. There are still things I teach them. When you email a professor, you probably shouldn’t say “hey.” That’s just decorum. Everything else, their souls appear so free. They’re so courageous. I love that. I envy them in a lot of ways. My job is to help them harness that and really help them guide it in the right direction and with the right energy. They still have their self-doubts and all the rest of it, but their courage and the way they show up in life — my entrepreneurs, on the other hand, are equally courageous. Through thick or thin, they’ve had this dream. They’ve had these goals. That’s what they do. They’re resilient. They lean all the way in. They just do it. I have a privilege of teaching so many different people from so many different walks of life from executive to students. I have to say, I learn something from all of them because I am so present. I think they teach me far more than I ever teach them. It comes from being able to shut everything else off and just be there. It’s probably because I’m so in love with it. It’s great. I get a lot more back from them.

Zibby: Gosh, this is a big sell for being a professor. That sounds amazing the way you describe it.

Mori: It really is. I never ever — I was that person who was afraid to stand in front of a classroom or read off of a — we had phonebooks back then, but phonebooks or a book. Now it doesn’t matter if three thousand people are in front of me. When you really love something and you feel like you have something to offer, it changes everything. It’s amazing.

Zibby: Wow. Thank you so much, Mori. Thanks for talking about your book, Bring Yourself. How can everybody find you? Are you on Instagram?

Mori: I’m on Instagram, @MTaheripour; my website, which is Mori Taheripour. I’m on Twitter. I’m on LinkedIn. It’ll be hard for people not to find me as long as they can spell my last name. They can get to me. I’m on all those things. We just launched a newsletter. All they have to do is go to my website and sign up for it. I’m on Instagram. I’m on all of the above.

Zibby: Amazing. Thank you so much. This has been really fun.

Mori: Thank you, Zibby. Thanks for having me. This was great.

Zibby: Take care.

Mori: Take care. Bye.

Zibby: Buh-bye.

Mori Taheripour, BRING YOURSELF

BRING YOURSELF by Mori Taheripour

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