Negotiation Training Hardwires Adaptive Skills

July 23, 2012

"Negotiating successfully is an acquired skill," observes Jane Miller, an associate dean and management professor at Isenberg.  "Some people have a fundamental knack for it, but everyone can be trained to be a good negotiator," she insists. Through readings, discussions, and experiential challenges, including bargaining exercises and simulations, Miller's class-Negotiation: Theory and Practice-helps students build a skill set that makes them more resilient leaders and their employers more adaptable.


Negotiation, Miller adds, offers insights that aren't found in most business courses-explorations in emotional intelligence where students identify their own values, motives, and ethical standards-and those of others. "In dealing with others, they learn to be appropriately cautious; they learn to trust others but to test and verify that trust," she explains. "The class helps them to become more confident in new situations. It gives them a perspective that accelerates life-long learning."


Miller's course explores when to use competitive (win-lose) versus collaborative (win-win) bargaining. It helps students to bargain when power relations are unequal and to resolve resistance points and unproductive negotiations, including when to seek assistance from third parties. And it examines the art of making concessions.


Students who take the course practice negotiation strategies and tactics in structured simulations where they bargain over personal and commercial real estate, auto purchases, and job compensation. They negotiate the relocation of a factory in Germany and work out business arrangements with Chinese partners to sell insurance on the mainland.


"They also learn that there's no substitute for doing one's research before coming to the table," notes Miller. "When our students team up with counterparts in (HTM professor) Bob Wilson's real estate course to negotiate the purchase of an apartment, they come thoroughly prepared with market prices and information about zoning and other factors."


Cultural differences in bargaining styles are evident when the students bargain in real time with counterparts from Shanghai Normal University. "Our students see first-hand how the Chinese emphasize relationships over short-term results," notes Miller. "They see that communication by the Chinese is seldom direct. Anything that's not a "yes" means "no." An "I'll get back to you," is a soft no. Occasionally, though, the Chinese students can be aggressive. Our students learn to be prepared for anything."


In another learning experience, the class participates in a Prisoner's Dilemma "game," where students represent two competing stores engaged in price-cutting. "Each side has the opportunity to cooperate or do in the other side for a relatively small marginal gain," notes Miller. "One-third of the students typically opt for cut-throat behavior. That comes as a surprise to many in the class."


Female students, says Miller, give high points to the course's exercise in salary negotiation. "Lots of research demonstrates that women don't negotiate actively enough when it comes to their own compensation," she remarks. "Most employers, though, expect that you'll bargain assertively." Unassertive bargainers, then, often wind up with lower starting salaries, which in turn, saddle them with a lower base price in future salary negotiations. Miller helps women in her class build confidence through practice and a better understanding of the dynamics of bargaining. "And if that isn't enough," she says, "I recommend the following tactic: if you're uncomfortable bargaining for yourself, bargain on behalf of your family."