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Advanced Negotiation Training

Consensus Building Approach by Larry Susskind

The Program on Negotiation (PON) at Harvard Law School just offered a Master Class in Negotiation for the first time. As one of the trainers involved, I can tell you it was not easy to decide what an advanced negotiation training course should cover. In the end, we decided to accept only applicants who had completed one of PON’s Senior Executive three-day training programs in the previous ten years. That reminded us what a Basic Negotiation course covers, including concepts like interests, BATNA, reservation values, ZOPA, value creation, value distribution, the use of objective criteria, packaging or trading, dispute resolution clauses, and other concepts presented in Getting to Yes (Fisher and Ury), The Art and Science of Negotiation (Raiffa), Getting Past No (Ury), Beyond Winning (Mnookin), Difficult Conversations (Stone, Heen and Patton), Negotiating Rationally (Baxerman and Neale), A Behavioral Theory of Labor Negotiations (Walton and McKersie) and The Manager as Negotiator (Lax and Sebenius). That still left open the question of what the content of the Advanced Course should be.

In the end, we decided that an advanced course should focus on the real-life obstacles that arise when managers try to apply concepts and strategies they learned in the Basic Course. We also decided to present some emerging ideas including expanding the negotiator’s emotional portfolio, anticipating the most difficult questions likely to arise in any negotiation, taking account of “subjective” value and not just the financial or “hard” costs and benefits that most negotiators emphasize, and dealing with the organizational pressures that make it hard for negotiators to be effective. We asked the 60 participants to tell us before they arrived about the negotiations that worried them the most. We discussed these in small (three and four person) setting over meals with the four senior faculty trainers. The positive reactions suggest that we made some good decisions. We kept the whole group relatively small. We sent participants a lot of material to read ahead of time. We focused on the problems that participants wanted to discuss. We used video recording and intensive group debriefings to make sure people had time to make connections between the ideas we presented and their own practice. And, finally, we devoted much more time to interactive exercises than lectures.

I will describe three concepts that I emphasized during my section of the Master Class. All three stem from my strong belief that negotiation is as much an organizational task as it is an individual responsibility. The first is the idea of a Negotiation Audit. Organizations, companies or groups that want to enhance the performance of their negotiators should bring in a qualified outsider to conduct an audit of the most important internal and external negotiations undertaken in the past 12 – 24 months. This usually requires numerous confidential interviews with a range of personnel, at various levels. Based on such interviews, it is possible to prepare a Negotiation Audit, similar in many ways to a fiscal audit that a company might use to gain an independent perspective on how its money is being managed. A good negotiation audit can pinpoint standard operating procedures that impede negotiation success. You can read more about Negotiation Audits in Movius and Susskind, Built to Win: Creating a World-Class Negotiating Organization, Harvard Business Publishing, 2012

The second idea I talked about is the importance of coaching. We modeled typical interactions between a senior manager and his direct report who wants advice before, during and after a crucial negotiation with a client the company can ill afford to lose. The senior manager does not provide much help although he thinks he does. A great many senior managers have no idea how to coach their direct report, so the organization never gets any better or learns from its experience. We talked about ways of adding coaching resources so that negotiators can find the help they need, even when it is not a good idea to rely on their direct superiors.

The third thing I talked about is the use of tailored training to enhance an organization’s negotiating capabilities. I described the reasons why so much money is wasted on training that is not appropriately tuned to the needs of an organization. Company-sponsored negotiation training should almost never be off-the-shelf. I reviewed the questions that negotiation trainers must answer if they are going to create training programs that produce results that drop directly to the bottom line.

Of all the things we talked about in the Master Class, the idea that seemed to get the most attention is how to manage the relationship between the person you are negotiating with and their back table. If you can’t help your negotiating counterpart get the right mandate, it won’t matter much what you say or how you say it. Your counterpart is really your emissary to their back table. You need to learn how to take account of that.

So many training programs operate at a basic level. It’s time to move to more advanced levels. There are a series of new books coming out in the next year that may be of some assistance, although I think most advanced training programs need to zero in on the problems that are front-and-center for the participants. The first is Michael Wheeler’s The Art of Negotiation: How to Improvise Agreement in a Chaotic World (Simon and Schuster, 2013). Wheeler talks about the importance of improvisation, arguing that anyone trying to adhere to a script, no matter how well prepared they are, is headed for trouble. My new book, coming out in 2014 from PublicAffairs, is entitled Good for You, Great for Me: Winning at Win-Win Negotiation. My focus is on the “claiming problem.” At the basic level, we’ve taught people how to cooperate to create more value. Now, at the advanced level, we’ve got to teach them how to claim as much of that value as possible (and as they deserve) without undermining relationships.


Larry Susskind

Lawrence Susskind was born in New York City in 1947. He graduated from Columbia University in 1968 with a B.A. in English Literature and Sociology. He received his Masters of City Planning from MIT in 1970 and his Ph.D. in Urban Planning from MIT in 1973.  Professor Susskind joined the… MORE >

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