Effective negotiation training can yield powerful results: deals where none were thought possible; improvements in financial and legal outcomes; more efficient and productive preparation and collaboration; the preservation of key relationships and trust; and the ability to innovate more rapidly in response to real-time learning from stakeholders.
On the other hand, ineffective negotiation training programs often fail to produce these gains. Why? First, they fail to anticipate the contexts and problems that trainees will face. Second, they fail to tailor materials accordingly. Third, they fail to provide prescriptive advice that is rooted in empirical research on negotiation.
Anyone considering negotiation training should screen potential training companies by asking these four questions:
Question 1: How do you tailor training to target specific problems and challenges my people will face? Negotiation is an enormous waterfront in terms of contexts and potential problems to be solved. Any training will be greatly improved by expert assessment of the kinds of negotiation challenges that trainees are likely to face; off-the-shelf programs can do little more than leave time for Q&A about how to apply concepts to new contexts. It’s far more impactful to design the learning experience and exercises in ways that target the kinds of people, issues, and challenges that trainees will encounter. (It’s also therefore much more impactful to do training for teams than it is to do open enrollment programs.) A good training company will be able to conduct meaningful interviews with potential trainees to uncover what their current negotiators experience, and to diagnose opportunities for doing things differently and better. (Hint: you don’t do this by asking people open-ended questions about how they negotiate!) As Larry Susskind and I described in Built to Win, a negotiation audit done by and experienced consultant helps to identify how training should be designed — as well as parallel actions that could be taken to remove obstacles to improvement.
Question 2: How is your approach informed by research on negotiation? Sadly, very few negotiation training companies are deeply familiar with the interdisciplinary research on negotiation (which spans psychology, economics, law, business, game theory, decision science, and other fields). This is a bit like consulting a doctor who hasn’t gone to medical school: you might luck out, but it’s pretty risky! Fifty years of research have revealed predictable mistakes that humans make when we think about negotiations and conflicts, when we navigate them, and as we try to manage our thoughts and emotions before, during and after. If a training company can’t tell you anything about the research they rely on – and give you specific examples of how they include it in their prescriptive advice and in their training design– you should be wary about hiring them.
Question 3: If you taught both sides your approach to negotiation, what would happen? Sophisticated negotiators know how to do well for their side even when the other side is uncooperative, and without resorting to relationship-damaging behaviors. Even companies focused on narrow, short-term gains can no longer afford to pretend that negotiation is a “walled-off” activity in which company values can be suspended. Too many unsophisticated training providers still teach people to ask for the moon, dig in, criticize the other side’s offer, and deploy various other blunt, trust-damaging tactics. Asking this question is a good way to ferret out companies who don’t know how to teach leaders in competitive environments how to negotiate effectively and with integrity.
Question 4: What are the most challenging obstacles you see to implementing new learning and ideas, and how do you help people overcome them? Be sure to ask any provider how they track performance after training, and what services they provide to help learners to successfully apply new ideas, behaviors and tools to their toughest negotiations. (Hint: “Advanced training” is not a good answer.) Most training firms measure and market their success by handing out program evaluations in the last 15 minutes of a workshop. Often these evaluations pull for positive comments. Effective trainers know that the real measure of success has to do with actual results. They have thought about how to help learners to apply new ideas and behaviors in complex, difficult contexts. (This is where pre-training assessment becomes doubly useful.) Off-the-shelf programs are not likely to be helpful to negotiators who face challenges that often stem primarily from the way their organization is structured, or from unique dynamics in their work situation.
Let’s recap. These four questions will give you a good idea whether a training provider is likely to deliver an efficiently designed program – one that will actually affect behavior and results:
- How do you tailor training to target specific problems and challenges my people will face?
- How is your approach informed by research on negotiation?
- If you taught both sides your approach to negotiation, what would happen?
- What is the most challenging obstacle you see to implementing new learning and ideas, and how do you help people overcome it?
If you are considering a substantial investment in negotiation training, using these four questions can help you to evaluate the effectiveness of potential training partners.
Movius Consulting helps business leaders negotiate critical agreements, manage challenging conversations, and communicate clearly at critical moments. We combine extensive scientific knowledge with practical problem-solving skills to help you achieve outstanding results. To learn more about how we can help your organization develop negotiation skills into a competitive advantage, visit us at moviusconsulting.com