Four Obstacles to Learning from Negotiation Simulations

It's not always easy to learn from negotiation simulations

By — on / Teaching Negotiation


Participants will learn from negotiation simulations only if they buy into the premise of the game. The following are the most common obstacles to a successful interactive negotiation training:

1. Resistance to Hands-on Learning

  • Some people, including many senior managers in American companies, find role-playing to be embarrassing or somehow beneath their dignity. This resistance is likely due in part to a fear of being seen in a less than flattering light by subordinates. (Interestingly, European CEOs and senior managers are much more likely to participate in and learn from negotiation training sessions than their American counterparts, perhaps because wage disparities between middle and upper management are smaller in Europe.)

2. Missing the Big Picture

  • Other trainees get so wrapped up in the details of the hypothetical situation that they miss the overarching lessons. This often happens when simulation writers, in an effort to make their fictional situations vivid, base them on disguised or hybrid versions of real business stories. Accounts of actual events provide verisimilitude but can confuse trainees who focus too much on the details and, as a consequence, lose sight of the underlying negotiation dynamics.

3. Difficulty Absorbing New Contexts

  • Some negotiation trainees have a hard time learning cross-contextually; that is, they tend to reject what is being taught if the situation, or context, does not exactly match the one they know the best. For example, someone who works for a state housing agency might assume that she has nothing to learn from a simulation set in a hospital, despite the fact that the negotiating dynamics might be very much the same.

4. Fear of “Losing”

  • Some people worry so much about “losing” the game that they would rather forgo the opportunity to experiment with an unfamiliar negotiating technique or strategy in an unprotected learning environment. This tendency is common among senior managers, as mentioned above, but can be found in any trainee who is unwilling to try an unfamiliar approach or method because it is awkward. Only by testing a new technique in a risk-free setting will such trainees become likely to try it in everyday practice.

What do you think about learning through negotiation simulations? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Related Article: Women and Negotiation – Permissions to Skip the Chit Chat

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3 Responses to “Four Obstacles to Learning from Negotiation Simulations”

  • David L.

    In my experience as a negotiation adjunct lecturer, I also find Point 4- “Losing” can be amplified in an Asian context; especially when attendees to a programme are very mixed with very senior people possibly paired with juniors. Giving “face” by pairing peers can help resolve this as can giving the negotiation a ‘fun” , learning approach.

  • Brian T.

    Down under here in Australia we get the same kind of resistance and dislike from participants to ‘role-playing’. So, the points you make above are valuable to me. I would be interested to know if there are valid beneficial reasons to use scenarios that are deliberately unfamiliar to participants. The reverse of the reasons above are positive but is there some research or principles that are more definitive?

    • Haydee R.

      In my experience of 19 years in teaching Negotiation in Uruguay and Southamericans countries, the most important reason to use scenarios deliberately unfamiliar to participants, is to help them to focus more in the “process” of negotiation than in the “substance” or context.


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