Negotiating training has become a considerable industry. It has the potential to help your colleagues work much more effectively with each other and with other firms. How, though, can you know if the training works? Some practical suggestions….^^

Good Goals. What can you hope to get out of a negotiation training for your organization? Lawrence Susskind considers the question in an August 2004 Harvard Business Review article entitled, “Getting The Most Out of Negotiating Training.”* He notes that training can be helpful in several ways, if it is done right: it can (1) help participants “size up negotiating situations,” (2) jump-start your efforts to help them perform more effectively, (3) help you benchmark their existing skills, (4) highlight institutional obstacles to negotiating success (such as limited preparation time or perverse incentives), and (5) help the organization spot ways to remove these obstacles. All of these things can help trained negotiators (6) improve immediate financial performance, (7) enhance customer relationships, (8) enhance service, and (9) enhance employee satisfaction.

Improving the Odds. How, though, can you improve the odds that the training will be done right and that you really do get your money’s worth? Whenever someone asks me about negotiation training, I encourage him to do a couple of things to help make the training a success.

1. Especially For Experienced Colleagues, Focus on Practice, Not ‘Lessons.’ A celebrated teacher and trainer at Columbia Business School argues that most trainers talk too much, trying to cram dozens of ‘lessons’ into each day of training. Yet experienced people are like Tiger Woods – they need coaching and practice to refine their technique and solve a few remaining problems; they don’t need long lectures. That means it’s wise to focus the training on the trainees and their problems, rather than the trainer’s expertise. Instead of acting like talkative experts, the best trainers act as quiet coaches. They rely on simulations and group discussions, not PowerPoint slides. They don’t “borrow the trainees’ watches and tell them what time it is” by lecturing about things the trainees already know intellectually. They do help experienced people turn two or three key ideas from concepts they ‘know’ to habits, which can actually help executives solve the problems they’re most concerned about. It takes some courage to train this way, since the trainer in effect shares much of the control with the trainees. Yet as my colleague argues, executives appreciate this approach. And counterintuitively, it can give experienced trainees a much better chance to Get The Most Out of Negotiating Training than a set of long lectures can.

2. For Less-Experienced Colleagues, Offer a Balance of Practice and Formal Instruction. Junior people may need more formal instruction about negotiating principles than senior people do. An experienced trainer will urge you to strike a balance teaching a set of ideas and developing habits. There are a number of ideas junior executives should know about (e.g., how to bargain creatively; how to bargain competitively, how to maintain the relationship; how to prepare; how to use a variety of persuasion techniques; how to measure success). It’s fairly easy to survey them so that trainees are familiar with them. Turning these ideas into habits is a different task. Trainers can help junior participants do this too; it simply takes more time. Talk with your trainer to find the balance that works best for you.

3. Do Tailor The Program To Your Needs And Their Abilities. It’s important for the trainer to learn about the organization and craft a program accordingly. The key is to tailor the program so that it lets trainees focus on content that matches the firm’s interests and the trainees’ abilities. To help do that, a trainer can do interviews or surveys to learn what people need and feel they need.

4. Do Use Relevant Simulations; Avoid ‘Custom-Made’ Simulations. I caution against the understandable belief that you must use ‘custom-made’ negotiation simulations that are special to your company. In my experience, these exercises can actually work against learning. Why? Good negotiation simulations are like sketches of real life, capturing what’s important and leaving out other things. This economy makes the lessons of the simulation clear, memorable, focused, and powerful. But now imagine doing a simulation about the specific work of one of your business units. Participants from that unit will be distracted by the simulation’s ‘omissions’; participants from other business units will be distracted by its use of specialized business terms they don’t know. The distractions will make it hard for the participants to focus on the lessons of the exercise. Of course, it can be useful to use a simulation that refers to your industry or your function. Or something somewhat like it. As long as the participants can see some connection to their work, the subject matter of the simulation doesn’t matter a great deal. But if it’s too specific to your firm, it can actually backfire. For this reason, I advise clients and students not to pay for highly specific custom-made simulations.

5. Develop Prep Questions For Negotiations. As Susskind notes, it’s valuable for trainees to develop the habit of using a simple set of questions as they prepare to negotiate. (One example is the I FORESAW IT mnemonic.)**

6. Give Trainees Specific Ways to Practice After The Training. You and the trainer need to do things to make sure trainees intentionally practice what they learn so the ideas become habits. As experts note, ongoing coaching, discussion, or follow-up contact is probably essential if you want the benefits to last for more than a few days. Trainers can also send graduates regular suggestions, exercises, and reminders so participants keep the ideas in mind in the weeks following the event.

7. Follow Up Eight Weeks Later. As Susskind argues, it’s also useful to let the participants know from the start that you will check with them a couple of months after the training to gauge their success. That way, you’ll have a better chance of tracking measurable benefits.

The Bad and the Good. Training can be a sizeable investment. I’ve been concerned that training can be a fleeting help at best or a frustrating intrusion at worst. No one wants that, and you should not pay for it. I’ve also sensed that a well-run training can really help groups immediately and for quite some time after, if it’s done wisely. I urge you to get your money’s worth by following the ideas here.


*You can order it from Harvard Business School Publishing at

**I FORESAW IT is a mnemonic that lists ten questions a negotiator should ask and answer before a negotiation. For details, go to the Home page, move the mouse to the heading “Articles,” and you will see a subheading for “I FORESAW IT” where you can read how it works. You can also find a copy of a handy I FORESAW IT template by clicking on the I FORESAW IT tab on the left side of the Home page.