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.

Roy Lewicki suggested his chapter, Teaching Negotiation: The State of the Practice, in Handbook of Conflict Management Research (Oluremi B. Ayoko, Neal M. Ashkanasy & Karen A. Jehn eds., 2014).  Here’s his description of it.

This chapter discusses some of the challenges and dilemmas of the “instructional side” of teaching negotiation, identifying the possible advantages and disadvantages of a “canon of negotiation” as well as some of the likely challenges of developing a unified theory that would incorporate all the possible lenses one can put on a negotiation dynamic.

John: This chapter generally focuses on teaching negotiation, which is the subject of an excellent series of Rethinking Negotiation Teaching edited volumes.   It provides a useful history of teaching negotiation, which parallels the development of negotiation theory to a significant extent, and it highlights some critical issues in negotiation theory, which I will summarize.

You describe three periods in the evolution of negotiation teaching:  (1) early (mid-1970s through early 1980s), (2) middle (mid-1980s through mid-1990s), and (3) current (mid-1990s through the present).

In the early period, teaching focused on foundational work in game theory, labor relations, and social psychology.   In the middle period, research became more interdisciplinary, bridging microeconomic and social psychological research for example.

In the current period, the field matured with “transformation of the until-then dominant research paradigm, which had been economic and ‘transactional’ and in nature, to a broader paradigm that treated emotions as data equally important and valid to rational decision making, that began to consider negotiation processes within ongoing relationships, and that considered the complexity of the social context in understanding interpersonal and intergroup negotiations” (p. 495).   Interdisciplinary scholarship involved a wide range of academic and professional disciplines and researchers conducted studies in complex field settings in addition to simple experiments and simulations commonly used in earlier periods.

You highlight several continuing issues including the following:

  • “Broadly, across disciplines, is there agreement as to the fundamental ‘core’ or ‘canon’ of negotiation content that transcends negotiation courses regardless of instructor, context, type of student, and so on?”
  • “[W]hile many have pointed out that the rules of negotiation fundamentally change when parties move across cultures, the field continues to be uncertain about what actually changes and what remains the same.”
  • “How have the dramatic changes in communication technology affected the way individuals negotiate?” (p. 498),

Regarding the question of a canon of negotiation, you cite Chris Honeyman and Andrea Scheider’s article, Catching up with the Major-General: The Need for a “Canon of Negotiation,” which found the following six topics in negotiation courses in a wide range of disciplines:

  1. The idea of personal style, strategy or personality, including individual dispositions to be competitive or cooperative, or favoring adversarial vs. principled, integrative, problem-solving procedures in negotiation.
  2. The use of communication skills—both effective presenting and listening.
  3. The concepts of integrative vs. distributive negotiation.
  4. The concept of a ‘bargaining zone’ between the parties, including the concepts of BATNA (Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement) and reservation (walkaway) prices.
  5. The use of brainstorming and option creation.
  6. The importance of preparation.

You note that they organized a symposium that included a wide range of additional topics including “the nature of principal–agent relationships, the importance of goal setting, the role of cultural differences in negotiation, the impact of research on cognitive biases and judgment on decision making in negotiation, [and] the role of ethics” and that in subsequent efforts they identified yet more topics (p. 499).

You conclude the discussion of this issue saying, “the search for the canon will not only necessitate more work, but may require a rather significant reframing of the question and the search.  The additional topics addressed below begin to refine (and perhaps redefine) this search, but ultimately, all of them come back to the question of the ubiquity vs. the diversity of the canon” (p. 500).

What is your current thinking about the existence of a canon of negotiation and the central elements of it?

Roy:  My thinking on this really hasn’t changed.  While the Honeyman and Schneider paper is now more than a decade old, to my knowledge, their research study has not been replicated and my own experience indicates that their basic six basic components (as you have listed) are sound.   If other components were to be added, we would probably be taking two things into account: 1) the context in which negotiation is being taught, and 2) the experience and sophistication of the negotiation parties.

With regard to the first, some contexts or audiences would require additional elements be added to the canon.  For example, attorneys frequently function as ‘agents’ representing their clients in negotiations, and therefore must understand principal-agent dynamics.  In contrast, business people, who often function as the ‘clients,’ are often taught how to represent themselves in negotiation rather than being represented by someone else, and hence are often not exposed to this topic.

Similarly, students who are going to function in an international transaction environment must know something about cultural differences in negotiation style and processes, while those who will negotiate frequently within the same cultural context would not suffer if they were not exposed to this topic.

With regard to the second variable, I believe there is some difference between the way ‘academics’ teach negotiation vs. those who are drawn in from the professional community (business, law, public policy, etc.).

When I skim a number of the ‘trade’ books on the market, written by consultants, attorneys, real estate magnates, etc., they traditionally advocate a single model of negotiation and embrace key points and steps on how to ‘win.’   I seldom see any reference in most of these books to the coverage that is typical to a more academic course outline, such as the topics distilled in Honeyman and Schneider, emphasizing the dual model, contingency approach.

As professional schools of all varieties increasingly hire clinical faculty (e.g. practicing professionals) to teach courses like negotiation, and as a never-ending stream of trade books appear (and disappear) each year, it may be worth the time to incorporate and assess the ‘street wisdom’ that these books are offering and whether their content and approach requires us to revisit the contents of the canon.

John:  You note the literature on negotiation of wicked problems, which seem unique because they deal with hard-to-define issues involving complex technical, moral, social or political aspects and “textbook solutions” don’t seem to help.   Other than the challenges of introductory instruction about negotiation, how does the existence of wicked problems affect the canon of negotiation, if at all?

Roy:  I don’t think the nature of a wicked problem changes the canon, but it may enhance it, in the following way.  Those who must deal with such problems must become significantly immersed in the nuances and complexities of the problem itself, relevant technical and historical information, the viability of possible solutions, and the context in which the problem exists, without losing sight of the fundamental negotiation principles and processes by which the problem might be ‘settled,’ if only temporarily and within certain constraints.   Thus, those who tackle such problems must be well-versed in all aspects of the problem and relevant details, able to see the problem from multiple perspectives, be able to embrace cognitive complexity and nuance, tolerate ambiguity, build trust with others, and have incredible patience and persistence.

These are not elements of the canon, but they are a rough list of the qualifications for those who would be most likely to be on the front lines of their handling and resolution.  Thus, the canon becomes more than the basics of what a negotiation should know; it also becomes the basics of who should be selected to handle such problems—and clearly a list of qualifications which is greater than those who are qualified to sell used cars or bartering antiques for a living.

John:  There seems to be general agreement that cultural variables affect negotiation, though you raise the question whether negotiation truly is different across cultures and, if so, what is different.  You state that most of the literature ignores the amount of within-culture variations and that aggregate generalizations do not apply to some members of cultural groups.  Of course, no variable can account for every situation but even so, how useful is culture in explaining negotiation phenomena?

Roy:  Across the board—i.e. across multiple cultures—the concept is probably not that useful, other than to understand that different cultures enact the negotiation process differently, and to be sensitive to that fact when one encounters an opponent from a different culture.  The real significance of cultural variables comes when one must immerse oneself in a particular culture for an extended period of time—i.e. a complex cross cultural deal or transaction—and understand that the other does not necessarily ‘dance’ the same way you do.

John:  You cite a review of research finding that the communication channels (e.g., face to face, email, text, phone, and video) can affect negotiation outcomes.  What are some of the key relationships between communication modes and outcomes?

Roy:  The key variable here is what my colleagues Bruce Barry and Ingrid Fulmer call ‘social bandwidth,” or the ability of a communication channel to carry more information that conveys more subtle and relational cues from sender to receiver.  Greater bandwidth enables the communication of more information.  Thus, face-to-face interaction carries the greatest amount of information (words, emotional inflection and tone, face and body nonverbal cues, etc.) and has the greatest bandwidth, while email or text or written communications probably has the smallest bandwidth.

The research findings tend to be complex and not consistent.  It is clear that face-to-face interaction can promote cooperation through better information sharing and ability to detect the other’s truthfulness, but it can also enhance toughness and competition by engaging the other’s defensive behaviors.

Email communication appears to reduce power differences between parties (giving the ‘weaker’ power more opportunity to fully present their perspective);  it also allows parties to more fully control exactly what they say, and the timing of their response, but it appears to allow negotiators to be less prepared and advantages those who are better with written over oral communication.  Other research has examined the effects of email and text vs. ‘voice’ (telephone) vs. face-face and spoken word, to understand the advantages and disadvantages of each.

One conclusion is that negotiators should think strategically about which communication medium they want to use, and to intentionally vary that medium depending on their intent in a negotiation.  For example, face-to-face may be best in establishing a relationship and/or closing and confirming a deal, while email or text may be best suited for the formal exchange of offers and counteroffers during stages when the parameters of the negotiation are being discussed and key positions, interests and offers are being exchanged (Lewicki, Saunders & Barry, Negotiation7th Edition, Chapter 6).

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