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Why Your Students Need Strong Negotiation Skills

As part of our future-ready skills series, we are looking at skills that kids will need no matter how technology changes. We don’t know what computers will look like in 10 years or the jobs that will be available, but we do know what core skills are essential for today’s learners.  

The focus of this piece is negotiation. Negotiation skills help everyone — kids and adults alike — navigate the world around them. Not just for getting the best price or asking for raises, negotiation skills can help groups of people compromise and understand the needs of others. 

Turning your students into negotiators can also make them more empathetic and less selfish. Here’s how you can introduce negotiation to your classroom. 

Why Negotiation is a Key Future-Ready Skill

When taught well, negotiation can help your students succeed in their future careers, their lives right now, and at school.

Negotiation consultant Jeff Cochran says confidence is one of the most important skills in negotiation. People can sense when you are intimidated or nervous, which will make them less likely to compromise. By instilling confidence in your students, you can make them better negotiators and help them stand up to their peers in other social settings. 

Plus, even the weakest negotiator can seem stronger and more competent with a little confidence.

Not only can you teach confidence through negotiation, you can also help your students learn to develop healthy relationships and friendships. As we will see later, the basics of negotiation are meant to make people less selfish and more empathetic to the needs of others. 

“Being a good negotiator helps to improve relationships because [both parties] can strike a mutual deal without hurting each other’s sentiments,” the team at Strengthscape explains. “Negotiation is very important for better bonding between individuals and leading a happy life.” 

While all students will negotiate financially or professionally at some point in their lives, building these skills early on can help them negotiate in friendships and, eventually, in romantic relationships. The sooner your students learn how to negotiate, the more time they will have to practice and improve this skill.

“Childhood should be a time when kids get some practice doing the tough things they’ll need to do as adults, but with the aid of guidance and support,” explains educational consultant Gina Belli. “The nice thing about trying stuff out as a kid is that the stakes aren’t as high as they’d be for an adult. So, you can learn the lesson in a safe and less dramatic way.” 

Negotiating for an extra dessert or an exchange of chores is a lot lower risk than negotiating a higher salary or the terms of a real estate transaction. 

How Negotiation Skills Make Students Less Selfish

Negotiation is often presented as a selfish activity. You see Wall Street executives or business professionals negotiating so they get everything they want. However, at its core, negotiation is about discussing motivation and understanding what the other person wants. 

“One of the most powerful things you can do in a negotiation is draw out why the other party wants to make a deal,” says business coach David Finkel. He encourages negotiators to take the simple step of asking questions in order to start negotiations from a shared point of understanding. 

In the classroom, this comes from students discussing what they want and why.

“The purpose of negotiating is seeing if you can get your interests achieved through an agreement,” writes David Wachtel at Negotiation Experts. “An interest is why you want something, not what you want.” 

What Wachtel means is that many students don’t want to explain why they want something — they think it’s the equivalent of “showing their cards.” However, by focusing on the “why” aspect, teams can come up with creative solutions that might differ from the “what” of the initial ask. 

To understand the importance of communicating with the person you are negotiating with and focusing on their needs, consider the exercise in “Getting to Yes” by Roger Fisher and William Ury. In this story, two kids want one orange. After some negotiation, they agree that one child can cut the orange, but the other gets to choose which slice they’ll take. 

Had they discussed why they wanted the orange, they would have found out that one kid was thirsty and just wanted the juice, while the other only wanted the peel for baking. The solution in this case would have doubled the amount of peel and juice each child got, proving the importance of the reason behind the demand.

To further explore this topic, The eNegotiation Channel created a useful video on the topic that you can use in your classroom. When done well, negotiation is fair and focuses on the desires of others so everyone walks away happy.

The Five Basics of Negotiation Your Students Need

You don’t need to turn your students into negotiation sharks who debate every request. Instead, focus on the basics of good communication and understanding. Follow these five key principles of negotiation to guide your classroom activities. 

1. Do Your Research

“Doing your homework is vital to successful negotiation,” says Ed Brodow, CEO of Negotiation Boot Camp. “You can’t make accurate decisions without understanding the other side’s situation. The more information you have about the people with whom you are negotiating, the stronger you will be.” 

Brodow encourages negotiators to think of themselves as detectives, gathering data and analyzing information to come up with a plan.  

2. Show How the Other Person Benefits

Business coach David Meltzer says people need to apply a “RIC analysis” when they present their deal in a negotiation. This may seem a little too “boardroom corporate” at first, but you can actually apply the idea to a lesson plan. A RIC analysis is:

  • Reasons that your plan is the best for everyone involved.
  • Impacts that the plan will have on everyone.
  • Capabilities the benefit of everyone in the deal.

For example, your students could set up a RIC analysis where one group promotes an activity and a second group suggests an alternative. Both could write out their reasons and then have a brief debate to present their sides and make counter offers. 

3. Never be Embarrassed to Ask for More

Andy Levi, cofounder of Spiro Technologies, says his dad taught him how to push the limits in negotiation. After all, the worst someone can say is no, and then you know where the limit is. 

This is where confidence comes in from your students, who can use this activity to ask for what they want and to stand their ground. 

4. Make the First Move

It may seem rude to jump in first, but this can actually help the negotiation process. 

“By striking first, you have established a high anchor point, and determine where the final compromise ends up,” writes career coach Ashley Stahl. The other side has to negotiate around your goals and expectations, giving your side the upper hand. Jumping in first is also another way to practice confidence. 

5. Suggest Multiple Solutions

Tamara Schwarting, founder of coworking community 1628, says you should never go into a negotiation without a viable second option. Without a “Plan B” you could walk away from a decent deal (putting yourself in a worse situation) or feel forced into agreeing to a bad deal because you don’t have any other options.

This also highlights the compromising nature of negotiation. We’re not teaching students to stand their ground until they get their way, but rather to come up with multiple solutions — each with their own benefits.

Students who follow these tips can focus on the healthy parts of successful negotiation, and learn how to apply these principles in various situations.  

Games and Activities to Bring Negotiation to the Classroom

Fortunately, there are plenty of resources at your fingertips for introducing negotiation in the classroom. Some of these games incorporate other future-ready skills, like critical thinking, while others focus exclusively on negotiation.  

Younger Learners

Learning negotiation skills can be fun — especially for younger students. Former teacher  Elizabeth Mulvahill shares some classroom games for teaching soft skills like negotiating.

For example, students can pretend they are stranded on an island and can only bring a few supplies. Or, each student can get four playing cards and work to negotiate their way to get four cards of the same number or face. These games are affordable for teachers and make the concept of negotiation less intimidating to young students.

Middle Learners

Middle learners can be either middle-school students or some advanced elementary students. 

You can start with the World Peace Game. John Hunter, a teacher at Richmond Community High School in Virginia, developed this interactive game in 1978. It was to teach his students negotiation skills to find solutions for peace. In the simulation, there are four “countries,” each with their own perilous situations. The goal of the simulation is for students to work together to identify biased information, come up with creative solutions, and negotiate with other countries to minimize military intervention and maximize prosperity for all.  

Biz Kid$, a public television series that teaches kids about business and money, has lesson plans on their website. Students can play games that involve negotiation. Their lessons cover specifics like developing win-win situations and dealing with objections in the deal.  

Older Learners

If you are looking for more advanced negotiation games — many of which are used in business settings — turn to the list that journalist Eric Benac created for CareerTrend. These include team activities where students can pick a leader and try to cajole or bribe them to change sides, and games where students “volley” offers back and forth rapidly in a verbal tennis match. The games are appropriate for students in middle or high school, but could also work for younger learners with a few adaptations.

Additionally, you can make recommendations for students to practice their negotiation skills at home. Current is an app that focuses on teen banking, and builds negotiation opportunities within the tool. Kids can digitally ask parents for a raise in their allowance while selecting additional chores and responsibilities to take on. 

“We need to give them tools of negotiation,” says Current CEO Stuart Sopp. “The way we deal with money and people has changed.”

While learning about negotiation can be fun and interactive, the core of this skill can help students throughout their lives. From compromising with friends to buying a car, negotiation skills will be an important part of their future. 

Images by: Konstantin Pelikh/©, dolgachov/©, StockSnap, steveriot1

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