Why do most participants declare the Negotiating Solutions® workshop the best - and most useful - training program in their careers?

It's the design itself. The design questions were: How can you help people good at and steeped in hard positional negotiation discover for themselves that they can get far better results, now and over time, using interest-based negotiation? And how can you help them choose to make changes in their internal master models for how to make the world work?

We're asking them to take significant psychological risk. We needed to make it safe for them to take those risks, and to trust us to get them safely through to a different, better model for themselves.

We've had the incredible luxury of more than 30 years to perfect the design.

Here are several elements of the design philosophy:

  1. NSW is based on an adult education, learner-teacher team design. We do not function as "expert" instructors. We propose concepts and models and invite the participants to play with them. The participants teach each other the core content of the workshop. They work on teams of their own choosing and serve as resources to each other in planning the negotiations. Each team also runs the workshop for an hour on Wednesday or Thursday, teaching everyone else one part of a four-part model for interest-based negotiation (from the Harvard Project on Negotiation and the Fisher & Ury book Getting to Yes), in the context of their functions, businesses, and industries. To do this, they spend time struggling with the concepts themselves, sharing stories from each person's work and life experience, and frequently talking with each other about what difference it could make in their parts of the business if these concepts and approaches were implemented.

    Joe Shackford, co-creator of the workshop, always said, "By Wednesday, the inmates are running the asylum." They also become "angels along the way" to each other, sometimes just by going for a walk together or having a drink together. This is facilitated by the off-site, residential nature of the workshop. Intense and lasting team-building occurs as a semi-accidental side effect. Silo walls break down.

  2. The power of powerless communication...and of stories. As facilitators, we employ what Adam Grant (Give & Take) calls the power of powerless communication. We say things such as, "You don't have to be convinced that interest-based negotiation is a better way. We'll find that out together." We tell stories - Roger Fisher stories, aviation stories, personal and business stories. We encourage participants to do the same. Human beings are designed to sit around a campfire, telling stories. The listeners remember the story and get the message inside it.

  3. The power of play. When people are given permission to play and to laugh, and not to be perfect, the right to think different thoughts emerges. Everything from dress code being whatever they are comfortable learning in, to modeling playful behavior, to the design of the workshop itself, allows creativity and energy and better ideas to emerge.

  4. We assume they are motivated learners and we treat them that way. At work, most of them know they don't know how to get from where they are to where they need to be with business as usual. Many of them regularly hit themselves on the side of the head and mutter, "There's got to be a better way." Yet they're trapped inside a corporate mindset and the paraphernalia of culture that hold the old assumptions and behaviors - and the old results - in place.

  5. No evaluation, no feedback. We make it clear the workshop is for each of them individually - not for anyone except them. People need to be free to learn, including free to mess things up. Everyone signs a verbal privacy pledge to "Let what happens here stay here." If a manager asks how someone did, we say, "X was fantastic!"

  6. The workshop's focus is not on teaching people how to "do" interest-based negotiation. Its focus is on the negotiator - how to help each of them be as good as they can be. In the process of discovery, most find that interest-based negotiation can get them far better results, now and over time, and they feel better about themselves. Since each person is at a different point in his or her development, what each person learns is different. Joe came across a Buddhist concept that makes sense to us. It says, "When the student is ready, the teacher will come." That's one reason why the workshop is as useful for vice presidents as it is for procurement agents with as little as 3-5 years' experience. It is not for "baby birds." Baby birds don't yet know that everything is all screwed up.

  7. The power of love. I'm a bit embarrassed to say this, but my job is to love each of them. When people feel accepted for who they are, they take extraordinary risks. In this case, they are changing their internal model for how to make the world work, how to "win" at work and at life. When that changes, everything changes. Decades ago, Newsweek magazine, in a cover article, called negotiation "the game of life." The workshop affects not just business results, job performance, and career trajectory, it affects people's lives outside of work. I cherish two phone calls we periodically get after the workshop. One is from wives: "I don't know what you did to my husband last week, but thank you very much." The other is from workshop graduates: "I want you to know I had the best conversation with my fifteen-year-old son than I've had for years."

  8. And one more thing. We're operations people. When our content co-trainers introduce themselves and their backgrounds, participants feel that they know the world they live in; they've got the tee shirts and the scars. When I introduce myself, most conclude that I, too, have been there, done that. Whenever you attend a training program, especially if you're experienced, you're wondering whether this will be worth your while, and you bring a healthy skepticism that it probably won't be. When you find that your guides or mentors are people who come from your world and have been successful in it, you relax.

Kaye Shackford, designer and process co-trainer

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