Friday summer-hours in Lima can start as early as noon. However, on this Friday the conference room was filled to the brim at 7p. Grey haired managers sat alongside fresh-faced analysts all eager for the session to begin. Interspersed within the hum of conversation you could pick out people sharing their glory and horror stories from negotiations past. And throughout the session, participants volunteered stories of difficult negotiations as well as hopes of hearing how to improve. This uncommon candidness, palpable excitement, and willingness to push the weekend back was clear validation of the interest people have in learning how to improve their approach to negotiation. At SimCase we’ve built a suite of games that aim to make the negotiation training experience more engaging, more personalized, and therefore more impactful. And by sitting in on a training session rooted in a more traditional, analog approach we reflect on what works, what could be done better, and how easy it is to augment these sessions with digital content.
It’s not hyperbole to say that almost every interaction can be framed as a negotiation – at home, at the market, or in the boardroom. It’s one of the first skills your kids learn, and governs how we interact with people we interact with once or on a regular basis. Whether counterparties actively frame these interactions as negotiations or not, they understand the value of improving their outcomes as well as their relationships.
Yet, in spite of how common negotiations are, people struggle to break down the common dynamics that lie in plain sight. Time, memory, and emotion all muddy the details of what we can remember regarding our last negotiation. Even those who negotiate with clients or suppliers everyday struggle to find the words to describe what actually happened, what went wrong and how to improve. This reality is what makes the practice of staging a negotiation exercises so important.
Therefore, it was no surprise that over the course of four afternoons we participated in three curated negotiation exercises. Each negotiation was carried out similarly to those I completed during my business school negotiations course. A paper prompt was distributed with people given time to read their role. Depending on the exercise, participants responded to a few questions and were then paired or grouped up. With a quick reminder regarding the time frame, these groups set off to negotiate.
This role play approach was largely successful in accomplishing its intended purpose, as students wrapped up the exercise with a shared experience they could reflect on. It was also fun, and allowed office friends to interact over a novel task, and built bridges between distant coworkers as well. More importantly, since each role was carefully crafted, there were clear boundaries that in turn helped the instructure debrief the results. In each exercise, the facilitator deftly teased out the paths of interest that had played out in our groups, and contrasted them with anecdotes from other seminars or historic research from abroad. This helped create a-ha moments tied to the decisions participants had made only moments before. It was active learning at its apex, and as participants left the session the discussions that reverberated in the hall seemed to validate that they would take the learnings with them.
I noted earlier that the seminar aligned closely with the negotiation courses I participated in during my business school negotiations course. While it may attest to the seminar’s quality, it also speaks volumes when I underline that I was in school when the first iPhone was released. How negotiations is taught has not changed much in the decade since I was a student, or in the quarter-century since many of these negotiation principles were put to paper. It’s important to recognize that this is not a call for change for change’s sake. Rather, we believe that software and device proliferation is finally at a point where a transition to a digital negotiation tool is both viable and beneficial, and some of those benefits are outlined below:
Simple Set-up: skip the colored print outs and easily adapt to absent or unexpected participants. Plus, time limits and case specific instructions can be built into the experience.
Pair For Purpose: Groups are no longer unwieldy, so negotiating groups can be set to maximize learning instead of convenience. Automation can also ensure partners are new each time.
Verbatim: Negotiating vía chat seems natural, and the conversation logs created take pressure off the memory of students in the debrief, and opportunities for research after the session.
Quickly See The Forest And The Trees: Students can now transition from negotiation to debrief without having to wait for results to be calculated – it’s automatic. Plus, debriefs can go beyond final prices and delve into how specific negotiations evolve in real time and where pairs fell into notable paths of interest
Uncover Buried Insights: Many secondary teaching points, like target prices or perceived resistance points, are lost along the way. When captured digitally, they can be weaved into broader results to generate fact-based insights from what actually happened in that session.
Keep What You Love: Going digital doesn’t mean that all the analog content is outdated. Existing slides, anecdotes, and facilitation continue to make each instructor’s delivery unique and should make these materials even more impactful.
More Time for Teaching: By capturing deeper data and leaning on technology to produce results in real time, instructors can focus on what they do best: teaching.
Taking a step back, the negotiation seminar was successful, but must also be considered an educational luxury. Not only because it cost a princely sum, but because there was a clear personal and professional opportunity cost associated with getting everyone in the same room at the same time. And like any luxury good or service, it’s hard to imagine this kind of experience at scale or opened up to an entire organization.
Therein lies the another tangible benefit of embracing digital. Suddenly, it becomes possible to offer the upside of active learning, with the power of personalized feedback, to far greater numbers. As artificial intelligence comes of age, digital negotiation tools will soon be able to allow students to engage in negotiation exercises when they have time, regardless of who else might be connect at that hour. Plus, solo negotiation experiences allow users to face off against different negotiation styles, reflect on feedback of what worked well and less so, and then jump back in and negotiate again. In what we hope is not hyperbole, digital negotiation exercise may help democratize access to what we believe to be the most effective way to teach the topic.
At SimCase, we are diligently working on tools to make that possible. We’re glad to share that some of our early work is already live in classrooms at Wharton and is piloting at companies in Latin America. If you are curious to see how these tools can expand the breadth and depth of your corporate training offering, we invite you to sign-up for your first digital negotiation exercise today!