This is part of the “virtual book club” discussing readings for the symposium at the University of Missouri on October 7:  Moving Negotiation Theory from the Tower of Babel Toward a World of Mutual Understanding.

Andrea Schneider suggested her article, Teaching a New Negotiation Skills Paradigm.  Here’s her summary.

Negotiation labels – of styles or approaches – can hide or overshadow the real focus of negotiation skills training.  We need to categorize in order to convey a significant amount of complex information.  We also know that style labels are pithy and easy to understand.  At the same time, we need to teach the weaknesses of labels and be sure that our students are not over-reliant on the simplification that labels provide.

Students need to struggle with the nuances of skills – the fact that skills can seem contradictory or counterintuitive leads us to want to oversimplify (e.g., all competitive negotiators are jerks, all accommodators are nice) rather than more effectively parsing each skill to stand on its own. This is particularly important in the areas of social intuition and ethicality which have, up to this point, been subsumed in discussions of style without holding their own style labels.

When we focus on skills – assertiveness, empathy, flexibility, social intuition, and ethicality – we can provide students clear goals for improving in all areas while making them more aware of their particular strengths and weaknesses.

Further, we can highlight the choices that they must make along the course of negotiation in terms of using each skill rather than sending them off with guidance only at the style level.

Finally, we can give students a different construct – negotiation origami – on how to choose among the skills based on client, counterpart, and context that will give them a more sophisticated understanding of the evolving and nuanced process of negotiation.

John:  In a footnote, you wrote that the original title of your article was “Labels Suck,” which I loved.  It was probably wise to change the title, though “Labels Suck” vividly reflects a problem with the oversimplified terms we regularly use.  We often assume that the terms have clear meanings that people generally understand the same way, but these assumptions often are wrong (as my students repeatedly have demonstrated to me).

Part III of your article identifies some of the problems with our labels.  One problem is that our terms may be unclear what variable they refer to.  For example, you note that the terms integrative and distributive negotiation may refer to a general approach or a specific task.  You note that we often conflate the concepts of negotiation approach or style, citing dictionary definitions of approach as “a particular manner of taking steps toward a particular purpose” while style is defined as “a distinctive manner or custom of behaving or conducting oneself.”  We use many different labels for the same or overlapping concepts.

You also argue that the labels are both overbroad and underbroad – in other words, they don’t fit very well.  For example, using objective criteria isn’t particularly an element of either integrative or distributive negotiation.  As result, the labels don’t help students (or practitioners) understand important skills involved in negotiation.

Of course, people need some concepts to communicate, plan, act, and analyze meaningfully.  You conclude that “perhaps labels aren’t so terrible after all.”

You identify the following five skills which you suggest are related to negotiators’ effectiveness:  assertiveness, empathy, flexibility, social intuition, and ethicality.  Lawyers should choose skills to use based on their clients, counterparts, and contexts. You note that your framework is just a “first take” and you invite other perspectives.

You wrote this article several years ago.  What, if anything, would you change in your “second take” about these issues?

Andrea:  That “second take” about these issues is exactly what I have been struggling with for the last few years.  As you note, the Teaching a New Negotiation Skills Paradigm, is really the first outline of these skills trying to explain exactly what is necessary in order to be able to have stylistic choices.  In other words, we all agree that the most effective negotiators are able to adjust their approach—shift their negotiation style—in response to their counterpart or the context.  And yes we know that when negotiators have limited skills—i.e., they are good at talking but not so much at listening—effectively executing these different styles is more challenging if not impossible.

So that is how the New Skills Paradigm started.  My goal is still the same—trying to figure out a way to keep track of the skills that are needed to be effective and to categorize these skills (rather than have a list of 25!) in a way that is relatively easy to remember.  Here is my latest take (which I’ll be presenting in Missouri):

Assertiveness:  In order to effectively argue your case (the traditional definition of assertiveness), you need to have both the knowledge of your case and the presentation skills to argue.  First, you can’t be assertive—you can’t ask for what you want—unless you fully understand exactly what you want, how important it is in terms of all of your goals, and why your desire is fair.  Therefore, under Knowledge, we can put preparation, understanding your alternatives and BATNA, standards and criteria, and setting goals.  Similarly, we will also talk about your performance—how can you best ask for what you want?   These presentation skills are the second half of assertiveness. We know that we are more likely to say yes to someone who is confident, patient, and tells a persuasive story about why we should agree with them.

Empathy:  Empathy consists of both cognitive and emotional understanding of the other side – understanding both the what of their perspective and how that perspective makes them feel. Empathy is a willingness to understand both aspects of another person’s perspective.  Specific skills under empathy range from active listening and good questioning—in order to learn about their perspective—to testing our assumptions about how this situation makes them feel.

Flexibility:  Effective negotiators are flexible in both how they approach a negotiation and are flexible in what they are willing to receive or what goes into a settlement and so I have tried to broaden this definition past our typical focus solely on creativity skills.  More broadly, flexibility in negotiation is the ability to adapt strategically during the negotiator process to achieve a desired outcome.  We do this in two ways—being flexible on our strategy choices (process flexibility) and flexible on the solution (outcome flexibility).  For the latter category, the skills we have long taught under creativity (brainstorming, etc) fit here.  And flexibility also includes the recognition that our negotiation style should depend on context and counterpart and should potentially shift over the course of the negotiation as well.

Social Intuition:  Social intuition includes three related skills under the broader heading of social intelligence that have not generally been included under empathy.  I think, though, that we are missing some key skills if we do not include these.  Social intuition first includes the ability to understand and monitor your own emotions, tone, and body language during the negotiation.  Second, social intuition includes the ability to read your counterpart for the same type of information.  Finally, social intuition includes the skills of bridging between you and your counterpart.  Mirroring their tone or body language, attuning yourself to them, and thinking carefully about how to build rapport using these paraverbal (tone and pace of speech) and non-verbal cues all falls under social intuition.  By developing social intuition, a negotiator can will learn to adjust his or her own behavior based on the behavior of your counterpart, allowing you to monitor and shift negotiation styles strategically.

Ethicality:  The term ethicality allows us to group the related concepts of reputation, trust, morals, and ethics in a negotiation.  There are three separate elements that play out specifically in negotiation:  reputation, our trustworthiness, and our trustfulness of them. First, the reputation of the negotiator is a crucial part of ethicality and has been much discussed already in terms of effectiveness.  Second, our trustworthiness is whether or not the other side can trust our word and links closely to our reputation. The third element, trustfulness, is often overlooked but very important in terms of getting things done.  Effective negotiators are able to trust the other side—at least somewhat—in order to get something done.  Too much suspicion or hesitation to work with the other side becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy in which, if you are suspicious of them, they should be suspicious of you.  Yes, of course, trustfulness should not be naïve or all-consuming.

I look forward to hearing comments on the blog, through this book club, and at the symposium about how we can continue to make this more accessible and helpful to students.

John:  Thanks for elaborating these concepts, Andrea.  As I argued in my conversation with David Matz (citing your article), I do think it’s important to have good theoretical concepts.

I agree that typologies that are too long aren’t as helpful as they might be.  This is the reason why in their book, Beyond Reason: Using Emotions as You Negotiate, Roger Fisher and Daniel Shapiro identify five core emotional concerns in negotiation:  appreciation, affiliation, autonomy, acknowledgment, and need fulfillment.

So you and I are on the same page up to here.

My question is what concepts are most useful – and what are the criteria we should use in deciding which concepts to use.  In a final post in this book club, I will collect the range of concepts and typologies discussed in this series.  Why should theorists, teachers, practitioners, or students use some of these concepts rather than others?

Let suggest some criteria, apply them to your concepts, and see what you think.  My purpose for this exercise is to develop criteria for analyzing all theoretical frameworks, rather than to focus on your framework in particular.

I think that a threshold criterion should be that terms generally should not be inconsistent with common understandings of the terms.  For example, I think of assertiveness as being willing to protect one’s interests.  Although knowledge, preparation, and competence are valuable to be assertive, I suspect that many people would not consider them as being part of the same concept.  Some ignorant, unprepared, and incompetent people may be very assertive about their positions.  Similarly, your description of “ethicality” sounds more like trustworthiness to me.

Related to that, different people generally should understand a concept to mean the same thing.  For example, I suspect that people might have very different understandings of a term like “social intuition.”  I think that many people would infer that this is about understanding others, but not necessarily understanding oneself or communicating well.

Third, when concepts involve several components, they should be related to each other both logically and empirically.  When researchers create indexes composed of several items, they all should reflect only a single dimension of a concept and should be highly correlated with each other.  Of course, your purpose is for teaching rather than research and perhaps this isn’t as important for this purpose, though if theoretical concepts are to have broad value, empirical researchers should be able to use them effectively.

Your concept of empathy includes both cognitive understanding (“I understand what you want.”) and emotional understanding (“I feel your pain.”).  This makes perfect logical sense.  But they may not go together in practice.  This is especially true for lawyers who, as Melissa Nelken pointed out, often feel that “if [they] wanted to learn about feelings, [they] wouldn’t have gone to law school.”  In practice, many people may be oriented to one or the other dimension of empathy but not both.   So I think it’s an important empirical question about whether it is useful to consider this as a single concept.

I hope that our symposium will help us identify criteria such as these to help us develop the most useful theoretical ideas we can.

So let me ask you a few questions.  What prompted you to select and define the concepts in your framework as you have?  What do you think makes for a useful theoretical framework?  Given my comments, would you change your framework in some way?

Andrea: 

What prompted you to select and define the concepts in your framework as you have?

I am trying to find concepts that we already value and teach in negotiation and to organize the skills that we teach in a way that makes sense. For some of these, like assertiveness or empathy, these are already well taught. For others, it seemed to me that we need larger umbrella terms to organize several concepts that are linked (ethicality, which links trustworthiness, trustfulness, and reputation is an example).

What do you think makes a useful theoretical framework?

A useful theoretical framework should be, like you said, one that can be universally applied. One of the major problems that students have in the classroom is that terms have been used interchangeably to mean several different ideas. You had previously pointed this out for terms such as assertiveness, ethicality, or empathy. So the first element to any good theoretical framework would be using universally understood definitions.

On the other hand, I don’t think we need to use a dictionary definition.  And perhaps this is where we differ.  I think that the terms can actually encompass the skills that are necessary to be that term effectively.  So, under assertiveness, I think preparation fits.  Because without preparation, you can try to be assertive but you are less likely to succeed.  Similarly, it is hard to be flexible in the outcome unless you use skills of creativity.

Given my comments, would you change your framework in some way?

Yes, I am hoping to continue to gather good feedback from other colleagues in the field. I don’t think that my framework is the final take. For example as you note, empathy seems to cover several concepts that perhaps should not be linked, although they have been linked historically in negotiation literature. I am looking forward to hearing what others have to say.

John Lande is the Isidor Loeb Professor Emeritus and former director of the LLM Program in Dispute Resolution, at the University of Missouri, School of Law. He received his J.D. from Hastings College of Law and Ph.D in sociology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is also an avid writer and contributor to Indisputably.org