Across the globe, negotiation skills training has become a common activity in managerial life. Organizations often take steps to improve their managers’ negotiation skills and their ability to manage other negotiators by enrolling them in negotiation skills training programs.
Yet often when these managers return to the office, they fail to thoroughly apply the lessons they’ve learned to their real-life negotiations. Instead, they tend to fall back on their old habits and end up getting the same subpar results.
Why is that? In part because the negotiation skills training they receive is not structured in a way that encourages managers to question their past practices and replace them with a more effective strategies. In addition, there is more that individual negotiators and their organizations can do to ensure that best practices from negotiation skills training are being applied back at work.
Here are several practices that can prevent negotiation skills training from passing on lifelong skills:
1. Over-reliance on lectures and “war stories.”
Well-delivered lectures by compelling speakers can be a fascinating means of learning new knowledge and being entertained. Yet as Harvard Business School professor Max H. Bazerman has noted, lectures alone are an inadequate means of helping people improve their negotiation skills. Lectures may pass along interesting knowledge, but they typically fail to lead people to change their deeply ingrained negotiating behaviors. Similarly, the types of “war stories” that lecturers often impart about how someone confronted a difficult negotiation may be entertaining, but listeners typically fail to recognize how to apply the lessons of these stories to their own negotiations.
2. A lack of support back at the office.
Organizations often encourage their negotiators to focus on narrow, concrete measures, such as purchase price, when judging whether a negotiation was successful, according to negotiation expert Hal Movius. In the process, they teach their negotiators to overlook other important factors, such as relationship building, long-term risks, and the amount of time and resources devoted to a negotiation. A short-term focus on price can lead negotiators to adopt a win-lose mindset that leaves value on the table.
3. Failure to practice new skills.
Like other new skills, such as learning to play an instrument or to master a new computer program, new negotiation strategies and tactics need to be practiced to become part of our behavioral repertoire. Yet many people fail to recognize the importance of methodical review and practice of new skills after engaging in negotiation skills training.
How can you increase the odds that you and those you manage will make the most of negotiation skills training back at the office?
Here are three guidelines:
1. Choose the right program.
The most useful negotiation skills training doesn’t just provide lectures and stories to participants. It also gives them opportunities to identify their weaknesses and practice the concepts they are learning, typically by engaging in negotiation simulations.
In the 1950s, psychologist Kurt Lewin described effective adult learning as a three-step process that requires us to (1) unfreeze old behavior by participating in exercises, (2) reframe new ways of thinking through lectures and readings, and (3) refreeze new approaches by reflecting on and trying out new strategies.
At the Program on Negotiation’s executive education programs, participants have such opportunities to assess their current skills, absorb best practices, and try them out.
2. Support negotiators back at work.
It’s unrealistic to expect negotiators to be able to overhaul your organization’s negotiating culture one person at a time.
Rather, your organization should adopt a negotiating framework—preferably one that emphasizes mutual gains rather than a win-lose mentality—and ensure that all negotiators apply it to their important dealmaking and conflict resolution efforts. Supported by negotiation skills training, a uniform framework can help you ensure that your team incorporates both short-term and long-term goals into their negotiations.
3. Debrief negotiations.
The ink may be dry on the contract, but that doesn’t mean you should put it in the drawer and forget about the negotiation. Rather, take time to debrief with your team what went wrong and what went right during the negotiation.
Revisit notes and other materials from negotiation skills training and analyze whether you are living up to the high expectations you set for yourself during the training. Then set new goals to ensure that you do even better next time.