Negotiation Skills Can Be Learned?

A number of top business schools have recently added negotiation skills to their curriculum. Schools like Michigan, Harvard and Stanford are even offering courses in negotiation not directly related to labor-management conflict. How effective are these programs?

According to a report by Dr. Israel Unterman of San Diego State University’s department of management, some are very effective.

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At a recent meeting of the National Academy of Management, Unterman related the results of a study in which 200 students were divided into experimental and control groups of 100 students each. The experimental group was given approximately three hours of negotiation skills training.

The focus of the three one-hour training sessions was on negotiation skills as a management tool, not as a set of skills useful only in conflict resolution and labor-management disputes.

Unterman reports that the definition of negotiation used in the program was similar to the definition preferred by Gerard I. Nierenberg, president of the New York City-based Negotiation Institute and author of several best-selling books on the subject (such as Art of Negotiation): “Whenever people exchange ideas with the intention of changing relationships, whenever they confer for agreement, they are negotiating.”

After the training, both the experimental and control group students were asked to solve a hypothetical loan case that involved the negotiation of a favorable interest rate, loan length and compensating balance.

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Students in the experimental group negotiated significantly longer loans at a lower annual interest rate, but with a significantly higher compensating balance requirement. Case study judges further deemed that the loans negotiated by the experimental students were better long run solutions for both the mythical bank and the hypothetical loan customer.

What did the trainees think of the experiment? Over 95% of the experimental group said the negotiation training they received would be important to them in their careers. Many of the experimental and control group students subsequently re¬quested full-semester courses in negotiation.
Unterman’s conclusion is that:

“There’s no need to limit negotiation to conflict resolution or labor-management disputes. On the contrary, the best use is in areas of management where cooperation is needed….

The multitude of skills required by executives to successfully implement the [negotiating] process can be taught. Such education can be [done] not only in our business graduate schools, but through reading current literature in the field, public or private seminars and videotape courses.

Given a reasonable period of study, such positive approaches to negotiation can serve the pragmatic needs of business and government organizations.”