Organizations across the globe spend many millions of dollars each year on negotiation training for their employees. This training can be in-house, led by consultants and other experts, or employees can travel to training programs at universities and elsewhere. After engaging in a couple of days of training, employees return to the office and attempt to apply what they learned.
Unfortunately, their new knowledge often fails to “stick.” They quickly abandon the best practices they learned during negotiation training and replace them with ineffective old habits.
How can managers and their organizations increase the odds that negotiation training will lead to beneficial long-term results? Here are several pieces of advice, drawn from experts at the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School:
1. Make it a joint effort. If you want to implement negotiation training in your organization and expect it to show results, you can’t sit back and let the university or training company do all the work for you. The best negotiation training courses should be a joint effort between the trainers and the organization. Encourage the leaders of any negotiation training program to consider the specific challenges facing your organization and tailor their advice to suit your needs.
2. Look for hands-on negotiation training. Beware negotiation training programs that don’t give participants plenty of time to try out the skills taught in class in negotiation simulations. Negotiation seminars can be interesting and informative, but students need to have the opportunity to make mistakes in a low-risk setting before trying to apply their new negotiation skills training on the job, notes Harvard Business School professor Max H. Bazerman. That’s why negotiation simulations, which allow participants to role-play real-world negotiation situations, are a key component of effective negotiation training. For our behavior to change permanently for the better, we need to be aware of how our old practices are holding us back, and then we need chances to practice more effective techniques and experience for ourselves how they lead to better results.
3. Encourage participants to draw analogies. The process of gathering similar lessons from two or more experiences can generate insights that we can use to improve our real-life negotiating behavior, Professor Leigh Thompson of Northwestern University and her colleagues have found in their research. In negotiation training, this means that the instructor should find ways to highlight a concept in both her teaching, in simulations, and in debriefings. For example, learning to frame an opening offer to maximum advantage in both a real estate simulation and a joint venture simulation should increase participants’ odds of using framing successfully in “real life.” The best negotiation courses recognize the importance of repeating concepts in different contexts, a practice recommended by Bazerman.
4. Measure the negotiation training’s success. Too often, the course evaluations that participants and managers receive at the end of a negotiation training course focus on atmospherics, like the trainer’s presentation style or the relative comfort of the room, notes Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Lawrence Susskind. Organizations should also encourage trainers to diagnose participants’ negotiation effectiveness. This can be done by surveying them at the start of training and at the end of the course. Then, trainers can follow-up on their progress back on the job. Managers can assess this information to discover how effective the negotiation training has been at improving negotiators’ skills and then work with trainers to improve results—or look for more effective training.
5. Encourage practice, practice, practice. Negotiators’ new and improved strategies won’t solidify into good habits if they aren’t given lots of opportunities to practice their new skills on the job. The process of absorbing better practices isn’t magic: it requires vigilance, a willingness to recognize and correct one’s mistakes, and plenty of hard work. After employees return from negotiation training, they should be given time reflect on what they learned. Encourage them to think about which concepts will be most beneficial to them and to actively practice these concepts, both at work and in their relationships away from the office. Employees might also meet regularly to engage in negotiation simulations on their own and give one another feedback.
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