How Technology and AI Can Transform Negotiation and Conflict Management in Your Business School and Beyond

 Georgia Read , Marketing Executive at Bodyswaps
October 18th 2023

It’s unquestionable that negotiations and conflicts are a part of our daily lives, impacting us both personally and professionally. From navigating disputes with friends and family to handling critical salary discussions, the ability to skilfully manage these situations can define success.

But are your students equipped with the skills they need to succeed in these scenarios? While a fortunate few may have a natural talent, most will need to cultivate these skills with the help of expert guidance and targeted training.

In this blog, we’ll explore the impact of negotiation and conflict management skills, how it can be taught to students or people early in their careers, and some of the challenges that arise for learners and educators alike.

“Growing the Pie”: A Case Study

In 2017, Harry Overly became CEO and President of Sun-Maid, one of the world’s largest raisin and dried fruit processors in the world. When he took the helm he found that the raisin industry had been in decline for years - partly due to the fact that California’s community of farmers and suppliers was tangled up in disputes that had been ongoing for decades. 

It was only through successful negotiation and conflict management that Overly was able to get others in the industry to agree to his plan of sustainably lowering the price of raisins, in order to benefit everyone. As Overly was quoted in saying, “We need to spend more time focusing on growing the pie than fighting over our piece of [the] pie within this industry.”.

Now, you may be wondering what the American raisin industry has to do with the impact of negotiation and conflict management education at your institution. Well, quite simply, it’s an excellent example of the impact of successful negotiation conflict management on a marketplace. Overly entered a negotiation where he was considering the value for all parties involved, thus taming the internal conflict within his industry through a collaborative vision that ultimately eased tensions.

And, yes, the outcomes of this negotiation benefited him too - as with worries surrounding revenue eased, Overly had more time to focus on other projects and improvements.

This, admittedly rather niche, example shows just how critical negotiation skills are to businesses, but also to individuals.

The Impact of Negotiation and Conflict Management

Having seen the true value of negotiation conflict management through this case study, it’s clear how important it is to ensure students and young people early in their careers are taught the skills necessary to successfully negotiate. One poll showed that 36% of people would characterise negotiation as ‘a potentially uncomfortable discussion’, rather than an opportunity to reach an agreement. This mischaracterisation comes from a lack of experience and misunderstanding of the objectives of entering into negotiation. 

A greater understanding of negotiation opportunities can only benefit students. Entering negotiations with confidence and the knowledge to emerge with a win-win result sets students up for success right from the start of their career. This can have a domino-effect: empowering them to negotiate for better opportunities, better pay and better projects in future (and that’s just looking at their professional lives).

Negotiation Conflict Management: A Skill for the Future

Returning to the raisins for a moment, that case study showed a business leader using his knowledge of the market and his competitors along with his negotiation skills to come out with a win-win situation that benefited everyone at the table in some way. And this ability is only becoming more and more desirable for businesses. 

Negotiation skills are within the top 15 most in-demand skills for the future and it’s been reported that managers devote up to 26% of their work hours to negotiations. Negotiation is becoming such a desirable skill, in fact, that a McKinsey report states that 93% of CEOs and CFOs have shown great interest in creating a new role: “Chief Negotiations Officer”. 

So, suffice to say, negotiation conflict management skills are vital to students and those just entering the workforce. But, like many soft skills, it comes with its own unique challenges for the educators wanting to teach it.

Challenges in Business Schools and Beyond

Traditionally, negotiation and conflict management has been taught with in-classroom roleplay exercises to implement theory that students learn. However, this sort of roleplay is often uncomfortable for students, performing in front of their peers often leading to performance anxiety. And this should not be overlooked given that anxiety has a negative impact on learning. Battling with performance anxieties will often lead to a decreased uptake in the skills they’re practising when focus is diverted elsewhere.

Traditional vs Tech

There’s also the scarcity of time and space for training these skills. Negotiation is a very coach-intensive skill to teach and thus can be difficult to incorporate in courses' hands-on training when there are large classes to teach. This is made even more difficult with the increasing hybridity of business degrees. 

Traditional methods of teaching negotiation rely on in-classroom scenario roleplay, often using a collection of well-known pre-set scenarios, and group exercises. And while this may work for some, many learners will suffer from those performance anxieties we mentioned earlier. Plus, time limits can hinder the amount of roleplay each student can complete in each class. 

But with tech-supported learning, negotiation and conflict management simulations can replicate those roleplays in a safe space where conversation is between the learner and the AI, and the learning can be repeated and completed in the learner’s own time. No restrictions on time or space.

There is also the challenge of replicating the negotiation experience during online lectures/seminars - with online lessons becoming more popular as 39% of potential MBA students want a purely online or hybrid course. Many business schools are having to rethink their MBA programs to meet demand, with one of their greatest challenges being finding material that can be successfully utilised across online, hybrid, and in-person courses.

But we’ve got the solution: asynchronous and immersive learning in a virtual environment that provides psychological safety. With cross-platform flexibility that means learning is accessible both on- and off-campus.

The Bodyswaps Solution

Bodyswaps’ newest module series, created in collaboration with Sage, gives complete negotiation and conflict management skills training. The Bodyswaps platform gives a transformative learning experience where learners receive individual coaching in a more private environment, providing a smoother learning experience for both educators and students. Our immersive and AI-supported modules allow students to practise negotiation skills with virtual humans and receive personalised feedback based on performance.

Plus, the cross-platform offer means our modules can be accessed almost anywhere, allowing the learning to be used on campus as a part of virtual reality workshops, but also assigned as homework to be completed on PC or mobile devices. 

Bodyswaps’ self-paced and autonomous learning means it doesn’t need the classroom setting to be used - our modules can just as easily be used by student services or careers & employability services to provide access to those students looking to improve their employability skills ahead of job-searching or even whilst looking for placements or work experience. Bodyswaps can also be integrated into university library services, opening the entire Bodyswaps catalogue to be available to students.

Interested in deploying our Negotiation and Conflict Management module at your institution? We’re running an exclusive Discovery Package for new customers. We’ll provide you with everything you need for a successful pilot, including hardware and software - the offer expires at the end of the year, so don’t miss out. Download further information by filling in this form.

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