“Without negotiation you may not even have a great product”

“Without negotiation you may not even have a great product”
Interview with János Tanács, teacher of the Negotiation course.

– It needs no explaining that negotiation is all-important in business life. But isn’t it something one may learn in practice without any instruction?

Sure. There had been brilliant negotiators before the first book on negotiation was written, and you’ll learn most about negotiation from practice. However, it does matter how high your learning curve starts and how steep it is going to be. People typically start from a common misconception about negotiation, namely that it is all about the battle of wills. The most dramatic scene in movies present the hero as courageously resisting pressure or having an ace up in their sleeve to force the other party to surrender. There are negotiations like that, but in business, where long term partnership is highly appreciated, the tactics appropriate in battle of the wills type negotiation are counterproductive.

– So, people often have misconceptions about negotiation.

Definitely. In addition, the significance of negotiation is not always fully appreciated. It is often thought that it matters because it depends on your negotiation skills how much you get. Say, if you have great product, but you won’t have much revenue if you can’t negotiate a low price with your suppliers and a high price with your retailers. But that is only part of the story. These days innovation is becoming more important than lean production and cost efficiency. Now, more often than not, innovation depends on networks, which need to be set up through negotiations. So without negotiation you may not even have a great product.

– And how can negotiation be taught?

There are two sides it, the conceptual side and skill side. On the conceptual side, you need to have an understanding of the various types of negotiations, the conditions influencing the chances of success, the factors on which your gain depends, the types of moves you may use to achieve your ends. On the skill side, you need to be able to apply your concepts to the analysis of the situation and link your concepts to behavior, e.g. be able to see what move the other party is making and be able to perform the right moves yourself. For the conceptual side we use lectures, stories, analysis from movies, on the skills side we use role-plays. Students receive a description of a negotiation situation and their objectives; the information they receive is confidential, so the two parties have no access to other party’s knowledge and objectives. They sit down, negotiate and then we analyze what they did right, wrong, and what else they could have down. This is the standard methodology that’s used everywhere. 

– Is there something that makes this course different from negotiation courses taught elsewhere?

Well, perhaps it is that it is based on synthesizing knowledge from various fields. Here at ELTE we offer a strong training in soft skills. Undergraduates have no less than four courses in various aspects of communication, social psychology, argumentation, persuasion. Negotiation is the last of these courses because it makes use of several ideas covered in the other subjects. All of us who teach these subjects have taught in communication programs at the university level and training programs outside the university. So, what makes this course unique is that it relies on a fairly broad background.

János Tanács is associate professor at the Department of Marketing and Argumentation Theory. He has been teaching negotiation for over 15 years on various levels, from beginning courses to advanced skills training programs offered to CEOs.