Professor George Wu on Negotiation: It Pays to Practice

Professor George Wu on Negotiation: It Pays to Practice

If there’s one class I’ve taken at Booth that I seem to use on an almost daily basis, it’s Negotiations. This is partly because of the natural relevance of the material. Once exposed, I found myself noticing negotiations everywhere I went. It’s also partly the way the course is taught: practical and immersive application.

In our first-ever faculty guest blog, Negotiations Professor George Wu, who is also the Faculty Director for the Harry L. Davis Center for Leadership, discusses how the course was designed and how students benefit from these lessons both in and out of the classroom.

Written by George Wu, John P. and Lillian A. Gould Professor of Behavioral Science at Chicago Booth:

We negotiate every day, whether or not we realize it. We negotiate with our coworkers and significant others, and for those of us who have kids—we definitely negotiate with our kids. We all want to be better at it, but how? I’ll tell you how we do it at Chicago Booth: we practice!

The basic negotiation course, “Strategies and Processes of Negotiations,” is the most popular elective for full-time students as measured by enrollments. An astounding 89% of our 2017 graduates took “Negotiations.”  And they took the class for good reason: the skills they learned in this class are useful across industries and functions, at work, at home, and anywhere there exists human interaction.

And how do we make students more effective negotiators?  Practice.  We have students role play in a wide variety of different scenarios, simple price negotiations as well as negotiations in which price is one of many issues; one-on-one negotiations as well as negotiations with many different parties; negotiations in which you are paired with a good friend as well as ones in which you are meeting your counterpart for the first time.  Students have to prepare as well as possible, but they also have to improvise and think on their feet.

But… few of us are naturally good on our feet. We give in, we storm out, and we make the same mistakes over and over again. With practice, though, we can avoid that and learn to anticipate common traps. That’s the impetus for the ‘scripting’ exercise I do with my students in my “Advanced Negotiations” class. Here’s how it works: I pose a scenario—for example, a recruiter asks, “How much do you make now?” It’s a tough question that nobody really wants to answer. I ask my students to write a “script” response. They prepare their answer.  In class, they see other people’s responses, and I ask student to rate these responses and justify why they think a response in their mind was magnificent or flawed.

One reason this classroom works so well is that humans are fundamentally curious.  After we respond to a challenge in the way we think is best, the natural question is: How did others do?  In class, no two responses are exactly alike, but patterns emerge.  Of course, some responses are judged to be mostly good.  Others largely evoke strong negative reactions.  But other answers are polarizing.  There is love and hate, not love or hate. Students learn a lot from this exercise.  They learn to calibrate their judgments.  They also learn that what works for me might not work for you.

Because this activity is so popular, I wanted to make it accessible beyond the Negotiations classroom. To that end, the Harry L. Davis Center for Leadership has hosted workshops and is developing an online version so everyone can try it. Look for more on that this spring (we’re partnering with Chicago Booth Review to make it happen).

So, what is the best response to “How much do you make now?” The best response is the highest expected value response that you can pull off. When it comes to salary, it pays to practice!

A special Thank You to Professor Wu for our first faculty blog post contribution! This is the second post in a five-part series on the Harry L. Davis Center for Leadership at Chicago Booth. Read the first post here.