The Past and Future Challenges of Negotiation Theory
18 Pages Posted: 13 Dec 2016
Date Written: December 9, 2016
As part of a symposium looking back on thirty years in the field of dispute resolution, this essay examines the past and future challenges of negotiation theory. The last thirty years in particular provide an important lens on the explosion of dispute resolution and negotiation in law and business school curricula. Furthermore, this analysis will help situate us for the challenges of the next thirty years. If negotiation is to continue to expand its reach, becoming both more useful and insightful, then negotiation theory needs to become more interdisciplinary, more global, and more practical. In meeting the first of these challenges, negotiation scholars have tackled the interdisciplinary work of others. For the other two challenges, however, we argue that more will need to be done over the next thirty years. Furthermore, all three of these challenges will be better met when negotiation theory (as used in law and business schools) is both a giver and receiver of wisdom.
For example, the law- and business-based theory of problem-solving has permeated to other fields. Likewise, the best advice from communication or political science has been brought to law and business schools. For the other challenges, again, this is not yet the case. Negotiation theory in the U.S. should both give advice for how to deal with cross-cultural and international disputes while receiving the best advice from negotiators around the world. And our best theory of negotiation should operate in a continual cycle of learning from practice, building a theory, testing that in practice, and refining the theory in order to really make it practical.
This essay will look both backward and forward within the development of negotiation theory in law schools and business schools to highlight these challenges. The first section will address the historical assemblage of negotiation theory, coursework, and exercises drawn from a variety of disciplines and pulled together as the core instructional foundation for early law and business school classes. We will look forward to outline how interdisciplinary negotiation theory and instructional methods will need to continually draw upon these separate strands in order to create a vibrant and robust — and yet practical — theory of negotiation.
The second section will examine the reach of negotiation theory and research into cross-cultural, international, and global contexts, arguing that, while U.S. practitioners and professors have written about the application of negotiation theory in a global context, much more needs to be done so that we in the U.S. are drawing from the best and richest materials found around the world. The language and cultural barriers must be breached so that the communication is more extensive than simply broadcasting the U.S. best practices overseas. Moreover, we must be assured that our students are prepared to negotiate effectively in an increasingly multicultural world.
Finally, the last section of the essay will address how negotiation theory is taught and implemented in order to ensure that theory and research on effective negotiation are turned into best practices. Both early and contemporary negotiation curricula have focused on role-plays and case studies to foster a more experiential learning environment — and this has been wildly popular. And to build on these strengths, the challenges for the next thirty years are to more directly identify what, how, and whom we teach. Past revolutions of negotiation theory have occurred at the conceptual levels — for example, shifting from an adversarial to a problem-solving approach. And, yet, we know that practitioners need to not only shift their thinking about the preferred approach, but also to be able to translate their thinking into action and model the actual skills negotiators need. Focusing more on how we teach these skills — from adding more than role-plays in class to thinking carefully about who is in our audience — will also help make the application of negotiation theory as compelling (and effective) for the next thirty years as it has been for the past thirty.
Keywords: negotiation theory, law school, business school, curriculum, interdisciplinary
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