Adapted from “Putting Negotiation Training to Work,” by Max H. Bazerman (professor, Harvard Business School), first published in the Negotiation newsletter.
Many executives read books and newsletters to improve their negotiating skills. Many also take time out of their busy work lives to attend classes and training programs, including ones focused on negotiation. Their teachers pass on interesting concepts and war stories about great negotiations. Yet when the executives return to their offices, the ideas and stories rarely affect their own actual negotiation behaviors.
Fortunately, there are a variety of ways that you can increase the lasting value of the executive negotiation programs that you attend. Here are three of them:
1. Listen for key concepts. As psychologist Kurt Lewin argued, there is nothing more practical than a good theory. Be open to concepts and theories, while noting their relevance for your own practical needs. Remember that concepts generalize to your own negotiations better than real-life war stories. So when you’re enjoying a war story, concentrate on figuring out the point and how it will help you at the bargaining table. If you don’t get the main point of a lecture, simulation, or story, raise your hand and ask.
2. Accept your limitations. The realization that you’ve been making decisions based on faulty intuition can be threatening to your self-esteem. Good teachers reassure their students that we are all subject to judgment biases. Having them doesn’t mean that you’re a bad negotiator; it just means that you’re human.
3. Practice, practice, practice. Developing new ideas into intuitive strategies requires practice and time. A negotiation class can begin the refreezing process by allowing you to practice concepts in simulations and exercises. When the class ends, however, the change process is not complete.
As you prepare to transport newly learned strategies into your work life, you must leave the classroom with a sense of vigilance. Back at the office, reflect on the entire training program and think about how you can continue the process of unfreezing, change, and refreezing in your on-the-job negotiations. If you consciously use your new strategies in multiple applications, they will slowly become second nature, taking the place of old patterns.