I am in the process of thinking about the last year and what worked, or didn’t work, in my classes. As part of that process, I thought I would share one new approach I took this year that I thought worked very well in my negotiation class. This new approach is thanks to Andrea Schneider’s Teaching a New Negotiation Skills Paradigm, 39 Wash. U. J.L. & Pol’y 13 (2012) or on SSRN.
For those who haven’t yet read this article, Andrea recommends that when we teach negotiation we should move beyond the simple categorization of styles such as being “competitive” or an “avoider” and instead focus on five key negotiation skills: assertiveness, empathy, flexibility, social intuition, and ethicality. The reason for this is the reality that negotiations are fluid and while one might be more competitive or cooperative, these labels rarely describe the whole process and in the context of teaching negotiation the focus on such labels can be at the expense of focusing on key skills. Andrea also identifies three basic skill levels: minimum practice, average practice, and best practice and gives clear examples of what would constitute a minimum, average or best practice level for each skill.
When I teach negotiation I use a fairly standard format. First the students negotiate based on a role play and then we debrief the negotiation. After the debrief in class, students write an analysis of the negotiation which should include self-critiquing. My frustration has been that students often do a very surface level in-class debrief and written self-critique. I have found it difficult to do a more in-depth analysis in class and therefore it is probably not a surprise that many students have a hard time with the written analysis.
I decided to try using Andrea’s five skills as the framework for our debrief and see if that helped. Before going through the critique using this framework I discussed how hard it can be to reach a best practice level and made it clear that I did not expect that level and that the point was to use these levels to aid in their self-critiques (I make the point repeatedly that the quality of the analysis is what matters and the importance of developing self-critiquing skills).
The in-class discussions still started by going over the basic outcomes and doing a general discussion about what worked and didn’t in the particular negotiation. Then I would go through each skill and ask for examples of what they did using that skill and ask students to evaluate what level they reached with that skill. Breaking their performance down into the five basic skills and then analyzing what level they reached with each skill resonated well with my students. They were quick to say things like “I don’t think I reached a minimum level on that one” or when they did something well to identify it as an example of a “best practice.” And, they also seemed to more easily analyze what they could do the next time to reach a better level with each particular skill.
I found that using these five skills and breaking it down by practice level helped in a few key areas. First, the class discussions were much richer and we were able to reach a deeper level of analysis. Second, students seemed to easily identify with breaking down the negotiation into these five skills and three practice levels which meant they started thinking about these skills in advance of or during their negotiations, not simply as an after-the-fact analytical tool. Third, the written analysis that I got back from the students was much better. I required students to use the five skills as the framework for the self-critique section of their written assignments and having such a clear series of skills to think about seemed to help the analytic process and encourage students to do a much more thorough analysis of the negotiation. In the end, using this approach helped my students to move beyond simply deciding that they are “competitive” or an “avoider” and thinking that everything that happens in their negotiations is due to their predominate negotiating style. It also encouraged students who think one style or another is superior to take a more nuanced view of negotiations and recognize that being successful in a negotiation is not about one style or another, but rather about the variety of skills that they use.
Because of when the article came out (after my syllabus was completed) I didn’t require students to read the article. I therefore spent a chunk of class time in one class explaining the article. I have a series of power point slides that I put together for this explanation and I am happy to share them (just send me an email and I will email them to you). However, I have decided that next time it will be required reading.
I’m curious if others have tried using this article in their negotiation classes and/or if you have other ideas of what you have changed recently that you think worked well in teaching negotiation.
By Cynthia Alkon