The Science (and Art) of Negotiation

Managing involves negotiating � with a teammate who thinks her approach is better, with a boss who wants the project finished before you have time to start it, with a vendor who wants a higher price, or with a customer who is dissatisfied with the product or service. People intuitively engage in the art of negotiation. What many don�t know is that there is a science to negotiating, and that a person trained in the science of negotiation has an edge right from the start.

�The biggest single misconception about negotiation is that only some people can do it well,� says Jeanne Brett, the DeWitt W. Buchanan, Jr. Distinguished Professor of Dispute Resolution and Organizations and Director of the Kellogg School�s Dispute Resolution Research Center. �Many people feel you can either do it or you can�t, that it�s an innate talent. Despite all the negotiating they do, many managers feel they are not very good at it. They don�t have confidence that they can negotiate well. They view negotiation as an art. In fact, negotiation is very much a science. What people lack is a systematic framework for understanding the negotiation process.�

Providing the framework for the negotiation process has, for many years, been the heart of Brett�s teaching and research. She and her colleague Leigh Thompson, the J. Jay Gerber Professor of Dispute Resolution & Organizations, teach one of Kellogg�s most sought-after executive education programs, �Negotiation Strategies for Managers.� The three-day program is taught three times each year at the Kellogg School, covering five major topics:

  • Evaluating Your Negotiation Skills
  • Advanced High-Stakes Negotiations
  • Negotiating in a Highly Competitive Environment
  • Resolving Disputes
  • Negotiating Across Cultures

Points of Distinction
�What makes this program distinctive,� says Brett, �is that when it comes to negotiation, we know what works and what doesn�t. The program has a strong focus on what research has revealed is central to the negotiation process.�

A second point of distinction is the continuity of instruction. �Professor Thompson and I are there every time for every class and we have been doing this for a number of years,� says Brett. �We change the exercises, but the core content is very, very stable. As a result, executives from the same organization who might take the negotiation course years apart from one another find that they have a very significant point of connection with one another through their negotiation skill.� �It is a distinct advantage,� says Brett. �They talk in the same language, they are familiar with each other�s approach to strategizing, and they quickly recognize, label and know how to respond to tactics coming across the table at them.�

Context Matters - Cross-Cultural Negotiation
The mix of students who participate in �Negotiation Strategies for Managers,� allows Brett to explore the question of context closely. �Participants reflect an array of career types, including the government and nonprofit sectors, as well as the for-profit world,� she says. �Many come from cultures around the world which makes the course particularly challenging for the American participants, and fun for Leigh and me to teach.� The more challenging factors present in the program�s simulations, the more learning that goes on. (Video: Professor Jeanne Brett on the challenge of cross-cultural negotiation)

In a worldwide business environment, with negotiation often taking place on-line as opposed to face-to-face, cross-cultural negotiation can present a special challenge. �When you cross cultural boundaries you encounter different priorities and different negotiation strategies,� says Brett. �It can be like ships passing in the night: you can see the other ship�s signals, you know they are signaling you, but you cannot interpret the signals,� she says. �Imagine then how cultural differences could affect the stakes involved in a major business deal.�

Learn Today - Negotiate Today
The emphasis on providing highly personalized negotiation training begins with a web survey that explores each person�s individual negotiating style. �There are questions about what you think is appropriate in negotiation, how you view power relationships, the tactics you use, how comfortable you are in sharing information, and questions about your cultural values,� says Brett. The survey results in a personalized report that enables the participants to benchmark themselves against their peers in the United States and 15 different countries.

Over the course of the program, participants engage in six rigorous negotiation exercises. The experience makes such an immediate impact that Brett says she has seen participants putting what they learned in class to work the same day. �They are with us for three days but during that time their work life goes on,� she says. �Many use the skills they learned on Monday when they are catching up with their job Monday evening.�

Following Through to Reinforce Learning
The final step is to have each student agree to what Brett calls a �mind meeting.� �We pick a very vivid future date and ask participants to make a point that day to review what negotiation strategy they are using from the course at Kellogg and consider what else from the course they should now be integrating into their negotiation strategy.� �People ask me how I stay so enthusiastic about teaching in the negotiation program,� says Brett. �The answer is simple. It is incredibly rewarding to see participants who started the program viewing negotiation as an art, begin to use the science of negotiation to prepare and carry out negotiation strategy.�  

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