Embedding Negotiation Skills

embedding negotiation skillsEmbedding negotiation skills, so people understand how to apply learning, is best achieved through a combination of theory and repeated practice.

Principles underpinning good negotiation have not changed much over time. But, whilst people may remember what they have read and been told to do, they are typically less aware of their own behaviour and how it impacts the ‘other side’ in a real negotiation situation.

Therefore, to develop skills, repeated and observed practice is critical. This training method accelerates learning and uncovers behavioural blindspots. Embedding negotiation skills through role-play also helps to ensure people learn in a ‘safe environment’ where mistakes and failure can be highlighted calmly and used effectively by a teacher/trainer to advance thinking.

Links to theory and a list of recognised negotiation principles are provided at the foot of this post. However, the main focus of the article is to provide an effective role play scenario that can be used repeatedly for embedding negotiation skills. Use with student groups (14+ through to MBA).


Highly Recommended Resource: Listen to Negotiation expert Devon Smiley share how to ‘Negotiate Negotiation’ on the Startup Survival Podcast.


Role-play Embedding Negotiation Skills Activity – Preparation

The purpose of the task is: To put people in a realistic role-play situation and let them discover that as a result of participating in the same negotiation activity, completely different results can emerge.

Why people get different results: The reason for the difference is because we are all human but possess different emotional drivers and behaviours. Knowing ourselves (especially our strengths and weaknesses) and knowing how we relate to others (emotional intelligence) is a critical skill. But we can only fully learn about and understand ourselves through experience and practice.

Understanding the goal of negotiation: The purpose of any negotiation is not simply to get what we want. The ‘Neighbours’ exercise is particularly valuable because it highlights the fact that getting what we want in the short-term can be easily off-set by long-term pain. For example, people don’t volunteer to live next door to people with whom they have fallen out. The goal of negotiation is finding the ‘sweet spot’ where both sides get what they want – otherwise known in negotiation parlance as ‘win-win’.

How people should prepare: Whilst you might not reveal this information until it’s time to reflect on the exercise, effective negotiators take their time and ask questions of the other side (to understand the situation) before reaching for a solution or judgement. Asking questions often reveals deeper more complex thoughts and issues. Likewise, complex issues can sometimes be resolved through ‘movement’ which is often the catalyst for both sides to reach a suitable and mutually agreeable conclusion.

Learning Points: The role-play will reveal several important learning points and principles including (but not exhaustive):

Assumptions are dangerous during any negotiation; Rushing to a conclusion or solution risks giving too much away (people in business who go straight to ‘price’ are typically bad negotiators); Stubborn people can be good negotiators, but without creative thinking, stalemate can result (not win-win); Everyone has a blind-spot but most of us don’t know what it is; Overly assertive or overly passive behaviour often results in unwanted outcomes; Good negotiators listen well, make notes and clarify what has been agreed/said on a regular basis.

In the exercise below adjust recommended timings to suit your learning environment.

Embedding Negotiation Skills – Role Play 1 – ‘Neighbours’

embedding negotiation skills

Divide the class into groups of 2 – ‘Homebuyers’ and ‘Neighbours’. Print and handout the relevant descriptions below so that each group of 2 people has someone who will play ‘Chris’ and someone who will play ‘Steve’ or ‘Jane’.

Ask people to read their brief to prepare but not to discuss what they have read until the activity starts. Preparation can take 10 minutes and people should be encouraged to make notes. After 10 minutes, ask people to hold their meeting which lasts up to 15 minutes (time to suit).

Once 15 minutes (max) has elapsed, ask people to wrap up. Then ask them to write down the result of their negotiation and why they reached that specific position. Once complete, decide the best method (depending on class size) for people to share and discuss their results.

Chris the home-buyer

Last week Chris bought and moved into a semi-detached property on 93 Poplar Avenue. The house and garden needs considerable work. Chris being a DIY enthusiast is up for the challenge. Shortly after Chris moved in, the rickety back garden fence bordering 95 Poplar Avenue, blew down in a night storm and caused some damage to the neighbour’s property. Having read the house deeds (in full) Chris knows the fence is joint-owned by both sets of neighbours. Chris sees this as an opportunity to meet the neighbours for the first time and decides to walk round and knock on the door of 95 Poplar Avenue to resolve the matter.

Neighbours Steve & Jane

Steve and Jane have lived at 95 Poplar Avenue for 25 years. They love their house and spend hours in the garden. Unfortunately, despite much effort they never got on with their previous neighbours at 93 Poplar Avenue because the property was always left in a derelict condition. Then suddenly 93 Poplar Avenue went on the market and in no time a new owner arrived. Both Steve and Jane were delighted with the change but slightly nervous about who might move in. But before the couple could meet their new neighbour a major night-time storm blew the back garden fence down and destroyed a number of Steve and Jane’s garden ornaments. Some of the ornaments have significant sentimental value. Both Steve and Jane feel frustration and resentment. Whilst talking about the storm, the fence and the damage, Jane and Steve see their new neighbour walking towards the front door. Taking one of the roles, prepare to discuss how best to resolve the current situation.

Role Play Notes

The role play can be made more complicated (and interesting) by adding a third party. Instead of Steve or Jane meeting Chris, Steve and Jane can meet Chris. The involvement of a third party typically increases levels of tension, creates greater opportunity for misunderstanding (between all parties) and depending on personality types can result in the person playing Chris feeling intimidated by the ‘2 V 1’ situation.

The addition of just 1 person will help people to appreciate why the Brexit process is taking/took so long!

embedding negotiation skillsNegotiation theory

I’ve deliberately not made theoretical material the main focus of this blog, as the information is widely available across the internet. For embedding negotiation skills, you may also want to ask students to look up additional source material and compare and contrast what they find. They will quickly realise the subject is only so deep.

In summary a good negotiator:

  • Plans and prepares beforehand
  • Knows who they are meeting
  • Is objective about what they want to achieve but knows where ‘movement’ exists
  • Understands the information they hold, what they want to know and what they are prepared to share
  • Asks questions and listens to what others say
  • Takes their time and appreciates that people think and act at different speeds
  • Is confident but not arrogant
  • Is able to spot opportunities and think creatively
  • Is not intimidated by ‘power’ or ‘powerful’ behaviour
  • Avoids being overly-emotional and letting the heart ruling the head
  • Seeks a win-win

One book that comes highly recommended by a colleague is Getting to Yes by Roger Fisher, William Ury and Bruce Patton.

And here are some sites and articles where you’ll find useful material with a few more words and explanation:

  • https://www.rainsalestraining.com/blog/7-qualities-of-a-great-sales-negotiator
  • https://www.inc.com/jeff-haden/11-ways-to-negotiate-better-with-anyone-even-if-you-don-t-like-to-negotiate.html
  • https://www.huffingtonpost.com/maryellen-tribby/negotiation_b_3605194.html

Good luck when embedding negotiation skills. Please feedback and share how you get on with the material and role play.


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