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Through role play and simulation, this course teaches strategic ways to strike business deals that do more than just make money

Three women and two men sit at a table with laptops and papers on it. A whiteboard is in the background. They are talking.
Business deals can focus on much more than profits. Hinterhaus Productions via Getty Images
Text saying: Uncommon Courses, from The Conversation

Uncommon Courses is an occasional series from The Conversation U.S. highlighting unconventional approaches to teaching.

Title of course:

“Negotiation Strategy: Fostering Collaborative Dynamics in Competitive Environments”

What prompted the idea for the course?

I designed this class to help undergraduate business students find the skills and confidence they need to develop solutions to better the world around them through business.

Students arrive on campus with energy, ambition and an instinct that business can somehow be a force for good. So I developed a course to help students learn how to be true to themselves when they negotiate business deals. This course teaches them that financial gains are not the only way to measure success in business. Successful negotiators seek to maximize profits and at the same time embrace an inclusive and collaborative approach.

What does the course explore?

Everything about the course is designed to teach students how to negotiate both rationally and genuinely. Students learn strategies to increase monetary gains. At the same time, they learn how their identity and emotions can be aligned with business strategy to fuel ambition and explore creative solutions to challenging environmental and social problems.

Students explore new ways of thinking and feeling when they negotiate. In one of the negotiation reflections, for example, I invite students to describe how feeling angry can help define ethical problems. Another scenario highlights to students how expressions of sadness potentially build empathy and trust needed to resolve conflict. Class discussions motivate learning diverse paths for exceptional success.

It is a highly interactive educational experience capped at 36 students. The course design invites students to role-play negotiations in teams of anywhere from two to six students. Class experiences open a window to observe personal patterns of competitive and cooperative behaviors.

Role-play exercises and negotiation simulations demonstrate how not to get stuck in win-lose propositions. For example, imagine two manufacturing companies fighting to secure supply of a metallic compound only to discover they have complementary technology that could create a better product. Both companies would make more money and customers would benefit from this new product. It’s a win-win. Now imagine their innovative technology could reduce pollution and create jobs in a region with high unemployment. Students learn they don’t need to choose between profits and positive impact. They can achieve both.

Why is this course relevant now?

When faced with challenges such as the recent collapse of banks and massive layoffs, students will broadly consider: What can a person like me do in a situation like this to make things better?

Good negotiators understand how to approach business decisions by asking what is appropriate based on their personal values. Students learn that the way societal problems are framed limits how they imagine solutions. If people think only about profits, they miss opportunities to do good.

The course introduces decision frameworks that transform the competitive nature of business into collaborative opportunities.

What’s a critical lesson from the course?

Being yourself in business means approaching work with the same logic that applies to community, locally and globally.

Every solution starts with oneself, with who you are in relationship to people. Success in business isn’t confined to winning competitive games studied by economists. The course highlights the interpersonal character of human understanding, communication and coordination. Students learn to build their personal way forward.

What materials does the course feature?

• “A Primer on Decision Making,” by James March

• “Getting to Yes,” by Roger Fisher, William Ury and Bruce Patton

• “Negotiating Genuinely,” by Shirli Kopelman

• “The Mind and Heart of the Negotiator,” by Leigh Thompson

What will the course prepare students to do?

Students will learn to see themselves as resources. They will see who they are as an essential part of understanding what is on the negotiation table and how to navigate a discovery process. They will be prepared to perform with dynamic flexibility, dignity and integrity. The experience in class offers a blueprint for engaging collaboratively in diverse professional endeavors. It paves the path for negotiating from the inside out to pursue profits and make the world better.

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