Negotiate to win

by Grace Chan

Stephen Nason, adjunct associate professor, Department of Management, School of Business and Management, the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology
Photo: Nolly Leung
Effective negotiation skills crucial to career advancement

In almost every facet of life, people try to get the best results they can via various communication channels.

Most, if not all, situations in the workplace are subject to negotiation, from bargaining a pay rise and assigning work duties for team members to dealing with external vendors. "People negotiate over everything all the time," says Stephen Nason, adjunct associate professor, Department of Management, School of Business and Management, the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST).

Professor Nason adds that managers are constantly tasked with mediating issues, with their job performance dependent on their effectiveness. "Managers are expected to add value while translating it into profits," he notes.

Although most individuals can broker a deal that works in their favour, the demand for more effective skills has been on the rise, says Laurence Franklin, adjunct professor, Department of Finance and Department of Accounting, HKUST Business School. "While most of us are reasonably confident about our negotiating skills in a local situation, business is increasingly global in context."

Practical learning

As the world's economies become more connected and interdependent, effective bargaining skills is more important than ever. The very point of negotiating a deal, Professor Franklin points out, is to secure a satisfactory outcome for all parties and stakeholders involved. "There are two primary ways to improve your skills. One is through on-the-job training and the other is to acquire them in a concentrated learning environment," he says.

With the increased demand, the HKUST Business School Executive Education Office has been offering a two-day open enrolment programme. Learning through practical experience is a key feature of the programme.

Laurence Franklin, adjunct professor
Department of Finance and Department of Accounting HKUST Business School
Photo: Courtesy of HKUST
According to Professor Franklin, the programme's instructor, students are introduced to several important negotiating principles with aid from real life examples. They will get a chance to participate in different scenarios, ranging from simple buying and selling situations to the more complex group negotiation.

To start, students enter a scenario randomly, then they are given time to prepare for the task. "At the end of the programme, they will have participated in all the simulated situations," Professor Nason notes. "Students usually start with a simple negotiation in the first day, go through some assigned reading, and come back to class for more complex activities."

Professor Nason, who is also the programme's instructor, says, "Every stakeholder has their own interests to defend so the group negotiation process can be challenging and the results inspiring."

Compare and contrast

Professor Nason emphasises that experience alone does not constitute success. "A competent negotiator is like a detective who looks for information from all directions. Negotiation can be the most interesting way to create value for stakeholders involved in the process." he says.

For every activity, a team's scores are shown to the class. By doing so, students can have a sense of the differing outcomes and where they have scored relative to other teams. Then they can learn where they were effective and areas that needed improvement.

"We debrief the teams to help them to understand what approaches they took in a specific negotiation process, factors that made or broke the deal, and the reasons for a particular score or outcome," says Professor Nason.

Instructors also provide case studies of various strategies that had both positive and negative results to maximise learning results. They also introduce the most ideal techniques for specific types of negotiation.

During class, students learn how to size up an opponent and situation, adjusting their planned approach according to the relative importance of objectives, a party's interests and power in various contexts.

To show different styles and strategies in action, the two instructors demonstrate their own approach in front of the class, while keeping interaction and practicality as key focuses.

With more than 300 senior level deals in financial services across the Asia Pacific region to Professor Franklin's name, Professor Nason describes his fellow professor's style as more forceful and direct.

"My approach tends to be more collaborative," says Professor Nason, who has taught at MBA and EMBA levels for more than 15 years.

In recent years, the HKUST's negotiation programme has attracted an increasing number of participants, mainly company directors, managers and specialists from a mix of industries and nationalities. "Hailing from diverse backgrounds, our students demonstrate a wide range of negotiating styles and they ultimately benefit from this diversity," Professor Nason concludes.

Executive skills

  • Maximise company's benefits through successful negotiations
  • Role-playing exercises help students see their own strengths and weaknesses
  • Interactive approach ensures effective and practical learning
  • Students benefit from a diverse range of negotiating styles and techniques

Taken from Career Times 14 May 2010, A10

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