Teaching negotiation post-Covid

Last week was the Biennale Roundtables on Negotiation, an event old-school enough for me not to have a website to link to.

Kicks like a (hybrid) mule

The event brings together trainers, educators and practitioners to discuss assorted aspects of negotiation, with a pretty impressive breadth of interests and geographies. Plus me.

Together with colleagues from Europe and the US, I was discussing how Covid had shifted our practice of teaching negotiation, something that obviously speaks to many other areas of our HE lives, but with some added issues.

Most notably, the changed ability to ‘see’ what’s happening in a learning environment when working online has been a major concern for all of us. If we are to provide meaningful and holistic feedback and debrief on students’ activities – as we should be – then moving people into different spaces comes with real difficulties.

Most obviously, even with a single platform, we cannot see into the individual spaces that students operate in, nor any other channels they might be using to interact with their colleagues. Whereas in a class you can move around and spot the verbal and non-verbal actions and interactions, in a virtual environment you are cut off from this. Even asking students to share what else they have done (either immediately or later in a debrief piece) is likely to miss a lot out, especially the things that they don’t even realise they’re doing.

But the issues gone beyond this.

Online negotiation – whether synchronous or asynchronous – is not the same as face-to-face in-person negotiation. There is a disintermediation caused by whatever platform or channel that is being used, plus a removal of some of the constraints on how one acts (think of the last angry social media post you read and ask whether that person would say the same to your face).

At the very least, this difference is one that has to be made explicit to students, before and after. When I’ve run online exercises, I’ve tried to get students to reflect on the impact of the medium and consider how things would have been different in person. It’s not perfect, but it is a starting point for building improved understanding.

If these problems are clear for online work, then they are multiplied many times in hybrid online/in-person scenarios. The most vociferous agreement during the entire event was that hybrid is A Bad Thing and should be avoided at all costs.

If you’ve done hybrid then you’ll have worked all this out within a couple of minutes of doing it. Your ability to integrate the two groups, to give them equivalent and balanced support and to give everyone a decent learning experience is very much impaired, to the point that you have to wonder why anyone does it.

[Finances, obviously, but still]

Again, what’s true for other areas of teaching is particularly true for negotiation, given the already high demands on close engagement with what students are doing, in order to be able to provide debrief and feedback. While there was some suggestion of getting students to provide peer feedback, that’s still a really tricky task in an environment that most students already find tricky.

So the big take-homes from this were the need to be aware of how working online changes how learning works for students (and for you) and the consequent need to make active adjustments and accommodations.

That, and don’t do hybrid.