So, you’re thinking about taking a negotiation course but are not sure if it will be worthwhile. Or maybe you attended one recently (or not so recently) and are wondering whether you are effectively applying what you’ve learned to the negotiations in your business and personal life.
Unfortunately, even after the best negotiation training courses, many of us have difficulty transferring the advanced negotiation techniques we learn in the classroom to the conference room, negotiation researchers have found. The gains made during training can be quickly lost as we fall back on old habits and sloppy thinking. Before, during, and after your next negotiation course, there are several steps you can take to increase the likelihood that you will absorb and apply your new skills successfully in negotiation and organizational leadership.
1. Be Ready to Make Mistakes.
A negotiation skills course can be humbling. Instructors often have students participate in role-play simulations designed to expose flaws in their thinking, such as the tendency to be overconfident or to assume that they are fighting over a fixed pie of assets.
Students often feel threatened when they discover they’ve been making decisions based on faulty intuition, according to Harvard Business School professor Max H. Bazerman. But feeling uncomfortable with an aspect of our behavior is a necessary step on the journey to improving it, according to psychologist Kurt Lewin.
Virtually all of us are susceptible to judgment biases that color our decisions in negotiation. Accept this fact, and you’ll be in a good position to adopt better patterns of thinking that you can apply to your own negotiations.
2. Take a Proactive Approach.
Once training begins, avoid the pitfall of passively recording the advanced negotiation skills taught by your instructor. Think about how these concepts relate to your own negotiations. How do the theories presented apply to your practice? If you’re not following the real-world implications, ask for clarification or a concrete example.
In addition, Bazerman advises negotiation trainees to listen carefully for repetition of concepts across the entire program. For example, after role-playing a negotiation with a partner, you might discover that you missed an opportunity to explore the other side’s interests. In all likelihood, the instructor will stress this pitfall throughout your training.
We learn better when we have the opportunity to abstract similar lessons from two or more experiences, researchers have found. For this reason, proactive students perk up when concepts are presented more than once—and are more likely than others to retain this information over time.
3. Learn the Most from Simulations
It’s common practice in negotiation training: Students are divided into pairs or teams assigned to engage in role-play exercises known as simulations. Each person reads confidential information about her role, the players get together and negotiate, and then the class reconvenes to debrief the experiences. Simulation became a common method for teaching advanced negotiation techniques because it allows students to practice their skills in a low-risk setting and requires them to confront common negotiation problems directly.
In a January 2013 issue of Negotiation Journal, George Mason University professor Daniel Druckman and Creighton University Law School professor Noam Ebner review social science research and find that engaging in simulations improves students’ motivation and retention of key concepts that have already been taught. Thus, classes that combine simulations with more traditional classroom methods may maximize learning.
Other learning methods could supplement or expand upon role-play exercises, Druckman and Ebner suggest. Students could be assigned to engage in real-world negotiations and then discuss their experiences in the classroom. In addition, students could become involved in the design of simulations. In their own classroom experiments, Druckman and Ebner found that negotiation students who were involved in designing a simulation retained advanced negotiation techniques better and received more satisfaction from the process than did those who simply role-played the student-designed simulation.
4. Consciously Practice Your New Skills.
After training ends, don’t assume that the advanced negotiation techniques training you’ve received will naturally become part of your repertoire. The process of cementing better behavioral patterns requires vigilance and hard work.
Back at the office, spend time reviewing what you learned. Think about which advanced negotiation techniques you would like to apply to your negotiation and actively practice what you want to absorb, both at work and at home. Consider trying out new strategies with friends, family, or a trusted colleague. Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Lawrence Susskind also recommends finding a mentor experienced in negotiation who can help you brainstorm solutions to dilemmas and role-play bargaining situations.
What other methods have you found useful for absorbing advanced negotiation techniques?