Over the course of this term, I have learned a tremendous amount about successfully navigating difficult communicative situations. Among the most difficult scenarios for me to work through have been negotiations. I’ve learned that although negotiating can appear to be intimidating, it doesn’t have to be. By completing the Stitt Feld Handy Group On-line Negotiation Course in conjunction with our ASU course, I feel that I have learned new skills with which to both avoid making mistakes and to increase my chances of reaching good outcomes while negotiating. Furthermore, I feel that these skills are applicable to my future personal and professional experiences. Over the course of this essay, I will endeavor to describe the specific lessons from our term that I have found most helpful in changing my feelings toward negotiation.
Prior to this course, I viewed negotiation as something to be avoided. I detested it because I thought I was terrible at it. If I was forced to participate in a negotiation, I viewed it as a battle of wills which the most knowledgeable, aggressive, or stubborn party typically won. Upon reflection, I realize that I only thought negotiation occurred when haggling over a specific monetary issue, like purchasing a car or asking for a raise. I did not realize until I participated in the Stitt Feld Handy Group On-line Negotiation Course (henceforth referred to as SFHG), that I use negotiation in many diverse contexts frequently in my daily life.
In my past negotiations involving to monetary issues (like buying/selling a car), I did not always achieve success. I let myself be steamrolled into agreements, made a lot of concessions, and compromised on issues that I should have held firm on. Upon reflection, I believe that I was not very successful in these types of negotiations because I viewed them negatively. My attitude reflected my level of discomfort with negotiating. Consequently, I generally responded to negotiations that others initiated with hostility or cowardice. Sometimes, I would let people have their way because I feared that the negotiation itself was in some way a negative conflict.
Now that I have taken both COM 312 and SFHG, I realize that I negotiate regularly throughout my everyday life. It happens in conversations with my husband as we decide whose turn it is to do household chores, when I babysit my nieces and need them to take a bath, I even do it when asking professors for a revision to a grade. Generally, I am very successful in these types of negotiations because they are interest based, rather than positional. According to SFHG, interests are primary concerns which lay behind each party’s positions; by addressing these interests rather than taking positions, fewer concessions are made and more diverse, fulfilling options are generated (Stitt Feld Handy Group [SFHG], 2007, p. 4).
My experiences with the SFHG simulations were both fulfilling and frustrating. I found that The Printshop, The Cold Call, and The Mangled Holiday were the easiest for me to navigate due to the fact that they involved one of my strengths: understanding others’ motives and interests. Pavlov’s Hotel, The Used Car, and The Lease were all increasingly difficult for me to handle due to one of my weaknesses: feeling the need to be aggressive or clever. The final modules, A Difficult Day Parts One and Two, were by far the most difficult for me because I found it hard to speak up for my own interests in a way that was polite, while remaining firm.
I related very strongly with The Mangled Holiday and found this the easiest of the first three simulations to maneuver within. I have extensive background in customer service, specifically in a call center. I felt that I understood things from Lola’s perspective as well as from a customer’s point of view. Due to this previous experience, I instinctively knew to mention my own feelings, to empathize and respect her feelings, to ask questions about how she thought the situation had become so “screwy”, and to let her fill in the silence rather than suggesting how she might fix the situation. By focusing on my own feelings and empathizing with Lola’s, I was able to ascertain what her motivating interest was: to achieve a customer service award. I also kept from inducing negative feelings on her part by refraining from asking to speak with her manager or threatening her intelligence by suggesting how she should fix her mistake. The most strategic part of the call, in my opinion, was remaining silent when Lola began musing about how the situation got bungled; this silence allowed her to search her memory of the previous events and led to her figuring it out and fixing it.
Of the second set of simulations, I found Pavlov’s Hotel the most frustrating. I interpreted the instructions to mean that I only had seven nights to spend in the hotel and I had to have accomplished my goal of collecting forty signed hockey cards by the end of my stay. Due to this apparent pressure, I felt the need to be deceitful and to try to undermine my agreement with the Seal Hunter. This attempt at deception resulted in my overspending my limited funds and irritating the other man. By being the first to commit an act that the other party viewed as dishonest, I caused him to be less than cooperative at future junctures where I needed his collaboration. I think that my past impressions, that negotiations are generally won by the most aggressive, clever person, contributed to my mismanagement of this module. The most valuable lesson I learned from this was that sometimes the only thing I can control is my own honesty and trustworthiness. In this module’s notes, SFHG points out that showing the other party that you mean to be cooperative can result in their reciprocation with similar behavior (SFHG, 2007, p. 46). According to our text, these kinds of cooperative negotiations are more favorable because they typically yield win-win outcomes (Cahn & Abigail, 2014, p. 232).
I struggled most of all with A Difficult Day Part Two. One of the most challenging aspects of this module was deciding when to interrupt the steamrolling client. In general, I try not to interrupt people, I was raised to believe that it isn’t polite for a lady to do so. Therefore, when David began steamrolling, or speedily covering a large amount of information without allowing others to say anything, I failed by not interrupting him appropriately (SFGH, 2007, p. 58). When I let him continue to speak, I failed to let him know that I disagreed with some aspects of his proposal. When I interrupted him too soon, I offended him. I had to learn that an appropriate interruption involved alerting him to my disagreement at the instant it came up, while also letting him know that I was willing to hear him out (SFGH, 2007, p. 58). In my past experiences, I have let others steamroll me due to my polite nature and as a result I ended up conceding or compromising on important issues. I found it particularly helpful to understand that by speaking up for myself in a respectful manner, I can avoid being taken advantage of.
Now that I have completed all of the SFHG modules, I feel that some of the most important lessons that I’ve learned came from the Approaches to Negotiation Quiz. I became aware of both my strengths and weaknesses as someone who has a tendency to focus on the relationship. I particularly found it beneficial to understand that I have a tendency to get exploited or taken advantage of. It made me realize the importance of learning how to bargain in order to avoid quick concessions and unsatisfactory outcomes. One specific lesson that has helped me to overcome these deficiencies has been learning to keep my Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement (BATNA) to myself unless I feel that the other side’s knowledge of it will benefit me (SFHG, 2007, p. 38). Also, I’ve learned to not overshare information with the other party unless it is advantageous to me. Most importantly, keeping my target/aspiration value and my reservation value in mind as I go through a negotiation will help me to remain firm and refrain from conceding too quickly (Babcock & Laschever, 2009, p. 85-87).
This idea of keeping the BATNA in mind while negotiating was essential to successfully negotiating The Used Car module. I botched this module a few times before figuring out what I was doing wrong. The primary reason for my failure was that I kept attempting to get the man to give me more money for the car than he could possibly come up with. While I did successfully sell the car to him, I kept getting less money than it was possible to walk away with. I failed to remember that my BATNA was the woman offering $4,000! Another important lesson that went hand in hand with remembering my BATNA was recognizing when to walk away. If the deal at hand (in this case accepting $3,500 from the man), is not as good as the alternative offer ($4,000 from the woman), then it’s better to walk away and accept the BATNA (Babcock & Laschever, 2009, p. 49).
In the future, I plan to keep these lessons in mind as well as taking a newfound mindfulness into negotiations. According to Improving Your Conflict Management Skills, found in Module 6, people tend to fall into a pattern of strategies that frequently work for them. Developing a plethora of strategies to fall back on will help me to adapt to any number of diverse situations. Since no two negotiations are the same, being conscientious of situations as well as having a variety of tools at my disposal will enable me to be more effective in achieving my target/aspiration values in negotiations.
Furthermore, I don’t feel as intimidated by negotiating itself anymore. I think that by realizing that negotiations don’t need to be aggressive, I will be more successful. I used to find negotiating unapproachable, now I realize that it isn’t the act of negotiating that frightens me; it’s usually the subjects at hand and the people I’m interacting with that scare me. I find car purchases and sales overwhelming because I don’t know a lot about cars and financing. I dislike asking my bosses for raises because I fear a negative response or repercussions. This new insight has led me to recognize a need for further preparation before engaging in negotiations. I simply need to do more substantial research before I buy or sell a car. I also think I need to try role playing and assembling a substantial case before asking for a raise. According to p. 77 of Babcock and Laschever (2009), these acts of preparation better prepare you to successfully negotiate and argue persuasively.
This newfound perspective will open up new possibilities for me. I think it will give me the courage to ask for better deals on major purchases, to ask for raises or promotions, and the overall confidence I will need moving into the corporate world after graduation. I intend to use these skills to improve my personal financial standing and to build a successful career in the publishing industry. Most importantly, one of my highest goals for myself is to achieve a salary that is equal to or greater than my male counterparts in my chosen field. Generally, women are not taught the skills we need to negotiate our salaries. This course has given me a tool with which I aim to achieve equality for myself.
Overall, I feel that our negotiation module was enlightening. I very much liked the creativity with which the concepts were described in the text. For example, I had not thought before of utilizing methods like brainstorming when negotiating. To me, brainstorming is something you do before you write a paper, not before you engage in a business deal. Cahn & Abigail state on p. 233 that by brainstorming an extensive list of all potential courses of action, it becomes easier to focus on the options that will yield the best results for all involved parties.
Additionally, I appreciated that the concepts we reviewed in the text corresponded to the goals of the SFHG negotiation simulations. The most important of these concepts for me personally, was the idea that negotiations can be approached from an interest based perspective rather than a positional perspective. The text describes positions as someone’s ultimate goal to achieve through negotiation while interests are the underlying principles behind a position (Cahn & Abigail, 2014, p. 233). Interests can be fulfilled by a multitude of positions. This was wonderfully reinforced throughout the SFHG negotiations which encouraged me to use my relational strengths to dig up the other party’s interests in nearly every exercise. This was the most helpful part of the SFHG simulations and I think it should be kept.
If I had to make a suggestion about the SFHG simulations, I would say that they should add a simulation that is more readily adaptable to real life. Not everyone will own a business or make a career in which they sell items or make a commission. However, I can almost guarantee that everyone will have a garage sale, buy a home, ask for a raise, or negotiate a lower rate on a loan. I think that these are more pertinent scenarios for the average person taking the course. Also, I would suggest that they eliminate the Pavlov’s Hotel module. I appreciate that it teaches the concept of a Prisoner’s Dilemma, or a mixed-motive situation as the text describes it, in which one has the choice of either cooperating with someone or choosing to deceive them in an effort to gain an advantage (Cahn & Abigail, 2014, p. 145). However, I think that this concept could be taught in the context of a more real-world scenario, such as the ones I previously mentioned.
In summation, I have had an eye-opening experience over the course of the term in regard to how I approach negotiation. I have moved from fearing and avoiding it to being confident and relatively comfortable with negotiating. The various SFHG simulations have made me aware of my strengths and weaknesses and have generally made me better prepared to engage in these conversations. While there are areas for potential change within the program, I think that SFHG is a fantastic tool for teaching students how to navigate the process that is negotiating. Moving forward, I feel much more prepared to negotiate successfully in favor of my own interests.