Making and Using Films to Teach Negotiation

By on / Daily, Negotiation Skills, Pedagogy at the Program on Negotiation (Pedagogy @ PON)

Access to multimedia content is rapidly increasing throughout the world, with videos and short clips permeating our daily life – whether in gas stations, on ATMs, cell phones, or mobile entertainment devices.   We are consuming, producing, and interacting with videos more now than ever before: YouTube is the third-most visited website on the Internet, the website Hulu is now seen as a competitor to cable TV, and Flip Cameras and digital technology like Movie Maker and iMovie allow a novice to become a director, cinematographer, and producer with little effort.[i] In light of increasing trends toward video fluency and interest in using videos in education, the Program on Negotiation Clearinghouse is making a concerted shift toward providing more videos as negotiation and mediation resources. To that end, NP@PON invited Hal Movius, principal and director of Training and Consulting Services at the Consensus Building Institute, to present “Reel Life: Making and Using Films to Teach Negotiation” at the 2010 Spring NP@PON Faculty Dinner.  Hal is a pioneer in developing corporate negotiation video simulations and has created four DVDs to help corporations train staff in negotiation techniques.

Build powerful negotiation skills and become a better dealmaker and leader. Download our FREE special report, Negotiation Skills: Negotiation Strategies and Negotiation Techniques to Help You Become a Better Negotiator, from the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School.

Current Trends

The 2009 NP@PON Mediation Pedagogy Conference Participant Survey (reviewed in the 2010 Winter NP@PON E-Newsletter) found that respondents are eager to use new technology and techniques to teach mediation. More than three-quarters of the teachers and trainers interviewed indicated that using video is important to teaching mediation.  The curriculum review described in this issue of the NP@PON E-Newsletter found that more than half of the course outlines we reviewed utilized videos to teach mediation, either by creating video recordings to assess students’ mediation strategies or to view video role plays and simulations.

Hal Movius’s Work

While consulting with the Consensus Building Institute for a large media conglomerate, Hal had the opportunity to work with professional video producers.  Hal has scripted and produced powerful instructional DVDs.  The materials are extremely popular with CBI’s corporate clients and have provoked some exciting conversations about negotiation and negotiation instruction.

Recently, Hal produced several more negotiation training videos with corporate partners — hiring professional crews and actors to portray situations based on interviews with company executives.  Each video is relevant to a particular specific corporate environment (in which new negotiation challenges have arisen) and portrays staff dealing with issues similar to those commonly experienced by the audience.

It is common for participants to do role-play simulations and watch videos in negotiation trainings, but it is rare for videos to resonate with participants by relating specifically to their real-world context.  Hal compared the generalized video learning process to watching someone ride a bike on a track, and then being asked to ride a bike down a mountain trail, using only what you learned from watching the biker on the track.  Context is important in negotiation training, as the skills needed in a given circumstance may be completely different in another situation.

Build powerful negotiation skills and become a better dealmaker and leader. Download our FREE special report, Negotiation Skills: Negotiation Strategies and Negotiation Techniques to Help You Become a Better Negotiator, from the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School.

Video as a Teaching Tool

Hal explains:  “As a psychologist by training, I became very interested in how people respond to film.  It provokes a much deeper experience than would talking or reading about a given situation.”  Videos convey lessons in a different way than a lecture, discussion, or even role play might convey.  Students who are well read in negotiation theory gain explicit knowledge structures with “correct” and “incorrect” answers to negotiation practices.  Most of the time, these students are able to define theory without fully grasping the subtle nuances required in a realistic context.  Hal noticed that, after reviewing interactions in the videos, trainees reacted to the lessons with more than the common stock “correct” answers, and seemed to react with different implicit theories about negotiation.

Hal structured the videos in four different formats, with each providing a distinct learning opportunity:

  • Queries to the audience: In this format, an actor poses a negotiation problem to the audience, at which point the trainer pauses the tape and asks the viewers to discuss the problem.
  • Single vignettes: This format includes simulations of negotiation preparation meetings, at-the-table negotiations, coaching, facilitative learning, agency dilemmas, side meetings, and approaches to handling difficult people.  Actors depict various techniques and skill sets in these role plays.
  • Paired vignettes: This structure compares and contrasts behaviors and negotiation styles in situations described above.
  • Multi-scene stories: This video short takes the shape of a realistic negotiation drama that unfolds over time with protagonists and back-table communications, and illustrates common barriers and challenges.

Each of the formats models different negotiation practices – preparation, moves at the table, coalition-building strategies, and other techniques and strategies.  Each provides trainers and teachers with important teaching tools.

Carefully constructed queries following the viewing of a single vignette can be used to  elicit implicit theories. The trainer can use the “choice point approach” — pausing the video at any time and forcing students to respond quickly to events on the screen — to stimulate conversations about negotiation techniques or organizational behavior.  Other simulations are valuable because they model negotiation complexity and provoke emotional responses reminiscent of real negotiations.  Hal clarified, “When you see two people acting in an intense role play with one actor visibly distressed, you, as a viewer, have a physical response to the situation, the same way you do in a real-life experience.”  The multi-scene stories give students a better sense of the flow that characterizes real negotiations.  Hal explained, “Modeling the complex behaviors included in effective negotiation-in this case, on the big screen-seems to help the procedural learning of training participants and to spark additional teaching opportunities.”

His video simulations provoke new opportunities to think about negotiation moves more clearly, to sharpen strategic judgments, manage feelings before, during, and after a negotiation, and allow implicit ideas, assumptions, and theories to surface.

Build powerful negotiation skills and become a better dealmaker and leader. Download our FREE special report, Negotiation Skills: Negotiation Strategies and Negotiation Techniques to Help You Become a Better Negotiator, from the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School.

Insights from the Spring 2010 Faculty Dinner

Hal presented two film clips during his talk.  The first portrayed a multi-scene negotiation story that follows the progress of a negotiator as his agency attempts to “close a deal” and sign an old client to a new contract.  The client has hired a hardball procurement consultant who presents a significant challenge as a negotiating partner.  What ensues is a detailed unfolding of events that is both realistic and engaging, depicting the tasks and skills necessary for a mutual gains negotiator to succeed.

The second clip demonstrated a paired vignette of two different negotiation approaches to handling a very aggressive counterpart.  The first involved a negotiator struggling to communicate, but in the end failing to make an effective connection.  The second portrayed a negotiator using the mutual gains approach with the same adversary, and showing progress toward resolution.

The video clips initiated a very stimulating conversation, exploring different ways of using videos as a teaching tool, to the best ways of formatting teaching videos, to the increasing interest in using teaching videos in all kinds of classrooms.

There was a debate on how best to sequence videos in the classroom.  Hal explained that videos become even more effective when they are paired with a simulation and that there are numerous benefits to showing the video first, as opposed to starting with a role play simulation.  If used first, the video illustrates how to take certain actions – what to do, what not to do – that students can emulate in the role play.  If the teacher starts with the simulation, the video can open up conversation and draw out the students’ working theories of negotiation as they compare their actions to those on screen.  There was general agreement that regardless of the order, videos are an effective education tool.

Despite the near universal support for video as an education tool, there is not agreement on how to best use or format videos.  One participant viewed video as a crucial tool for portraying negotiation styles, while another highlighted its potential as an evaluation tool – allowing students to confront their own performances.

There was lively discussion about whether scripted or unscripted videos are more effective.  A script makes production easier and gives the educational producer more control over content and messaging.  But, this requires good actors and polished writing, which are often more expensive.  Moreover, scripted videos sometimes feel unrealistic or stilted.  A non-scripted video is more natural, but the producer needs to use gifted negotiators or mediators as the actors.

In general, there was unanimity on the need for higher-quality negotiation and mediation videos.

The Next Steps

The talk concluded with a look toward the future of videos in negotiation pedagogy.  Larry Susskind hypothesized that the format of negotiation- teaching videos will be almost as important as the content.  He explained that educational videos will increasingly be available for viewing online in various interactive formats, with multiple sets of comments and instructions embedded in the Web platform.  This will create new opportunities to engage a wider circle of learners and teachers.

Hal Movius’s negotiation videos sparked a great discussion.  NP@PON looks forward to working closely with Hal as we develop new teaching videos in the years ahead.

Hal can be contacted at:

Hal Movius, Ph.D.
Principal, The Consensus Building Institute

[i] “Top Sites,”, accessed April 20, 2010.

Build powerful negotiation skills and become a better dealmaker and leader. Download our FREE special report, Negotiation Skills: Negotiation Strategies and Negotiation Techniques to Help You Become a Better Negotiator, from the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School.

Written by Orlee Rabin, taken from the bi-annual e-newsletter Negotiation Pedagogy at the Program on Negotiation E-Newsletter (NP@PON), which can be found here.

One Response to “Making and Using Films to Teach Negotiation”

  1. Tim /

    Films will be able to teach anyone anything, including meditation and negotiation. Soon, even schools will consist of only films! Haha. Reply

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