April Spotlight: Michael Freedman, Scotwork Negotiating Skills Training and Consultancy Dubai





1.Tell us about you, your experience and time in the Middle East?

I am British and I first stepped off a plane with a briefcase in 1983, it was Kuwait and despite having a civil engineering degree I quickly preferred sales to slide rules (that’s showing my age).  I sold construction technology in Kuwait, Jordan, Oman for road structures (reinforced earth), precisely the wall system that you see at every road junction in the UAE although back in the 80’s this was pretty sexy technology (as they used to say).  In Istanbul having sold and managed a significant project to the approaches to the Bosporus Suspension Bridge, after three years I decided to stay put and as is so often the case when a guy’s career changes direction there is a woman behind the story.  To cut a long story short my wife is Turkish, and we produced two more Turkish British dual passport sets.  I developed a logistics business serving the pharma sector which I sold to DHL in 2002. Thereafter I provided consultancy to multi-nationals interested in the Turkish market.   I was very fortunate in 2007 to be approached by Scotwork the world’s leading independent negotiating skills training and consultancy business and after a seven-month induction and qualification process became their licensee for Turkey.  Over the last 11 years I have run courses in negotiating skills across the region for hundreds of top companies, training many thousands of people to better manage conflict, improve profitability and strengthen relationships.

2.How would you describe the culture of your business?

What we do is hugely interactive and from our point of view, reactive.  I sat with colleagues last year and we listed over 200 learning points that can be taught during a Scotwork course but the beauty of what we do and the reason it takes us so long to be able to do it, is that the course is only 15% theory and our skill is with extensive use of video to capture participant behaviour, reinforce it, correct it  or guide it and then most critically reflect it back to the participants’ working environment.  The participants then identify the learning as relevant to the job and see an opportunity to apply it with enthusiasm and with tremendous ROI.  The truth is that in Scotwork we do not dictate culture, on the contrary that is entirely down to the participants who will do one of two things in front of the cameras, they will either

  1. a) reflect their daily behaviour or
  2. b) adopt the behaviour of the people with whom they frequently negotiate

This defines and reveals their culture.

Every course is different every mature company should have a different culture.

3. What are the biggest challenges in the next 5 years?

Technology will begin to change the workplace enormously, change will be rapid and people in employment will be obliged to adjust at a pace that has not been seen to date.  Job functions will be eroded, already I see the process unfolding and I worry for my kids although what I see is that their generation’s attitude to wealth is fortunately completely different to mine.   The positive side is that people will increasingly value the quality of their working environment and the relationships that they have during their business day, both internal and external.  Accidentally I find myself in a career that may be least affected by such change, people will always require a means of dealing with conflict that produces outcomes that not only improve conditions (essentially for all parties) but in the process strengthen relationships.  The link is to a short video I recently made about this very subject.  The lemon sisters

4. What are the skills and competencies that you would need to train in order to meet the region’s talent requirements?

At Scotwork we have a Competency Matrix which is used for identifying a company’s or a group’s negotiating culture, strengths and skill gaps.  Behavioural exceptions that will commonly emerge will be  listening difficulties, the reflex unwillingness to share information, inability to take control of discussions, poor inclusion of the other party’s needs, priorities and constraints,  use of persuasion as opposed to trading perceived value,  inflexibility, lack of understanding of limits, poor empowerment, not understanding if the other side is telling the truth before leaving the table, inability to handle unacceptable proposals, lack of emotional control, use of “yes” and “no” (the two worse words in negotiation),  long unproductive meetings, adopting behaviour that risks conflict, not asking enough questions, not understanding negotiating power and its effective use in negotiations,  not adopting team tasks (all speaking at once!), not getting a response to proposals, poor or non-existent summarising,  not qualifying assumptions, not making sure what is agreed is actually agreed….  the list is far longer than this but as described above the issues are largely dictated by participant behaviour.  If I had to choose one competency that impacts upon everything else, it would be preparation.  At Scotwork we provide a framework for skills and a template for preparation, what one client in UAE poetically described recently as “freedom within frame”.  People are experts in their jobs, they believe that they are prepared but they are not, because they generally only focus upon what they want and the means of getting it. To gain some comfort in what may often be a stressful situation, they unfortunately adopt a strategy going into a meeting which is inflexible and inevitably leads to deafness.   We teach people to go to a meeting to control the first minute to set the tone (and more), to ask questions to actively listen and structure expectations and in one sentence… “Give them what they want on your terms”… that requires preparation of options that could be used to enrich the agenda as opposed to strategy, because the simple fact is you cannot possibly know what is going to happen in your next discussion.


5. What is your Philosophy?

5 things…

  1. People should learn as opposed to being taught.
  2. A phrase I often use that appeals to participants is that we “turn conflict into a game”.
  3. Practice, you cannot learn this stuff from a book. We constantly get feedback from people who have taken what they have learnt from a Scotwork course, (as opposed to what we taught them) along the lines of “Michael, I got what I wanted from this course, after three weeks it has become reflex.”
  4. We are a training partner as opposed to trainers we so often give post-course feedback to stakeholders on key issues that impact upon the business as a whole; empowerment, use of reference materials as opposed to excessive persuasion, reward structures that obstruct sales, poor use of power as dictated by management that diminishes procurement’s ability to create value, insufficient data share through CRM… every course something different.
  5. Learning should be fun. We are having such a good time whilst changing behaviour, (I think the combination is essential) and I have just agreed a further 10-year license with Scotwork so there is no indication that the fun will end!
Michael Freedman. 
Managing Partner UAE & International Business Development
Scotwork Negotiating Skills UAE
M +971 (0) 50 901 3832