Blog Trailer: Critical Decisions in Negotiation

For years, HLS Professor Bob Bordone lamented that there was not an easily accessible, high quality teaching resource for negotiation instructors to demonstrate a range of critical negotiation behaviors to their students in practice.  Bordone explains, “Helping students develop new behavioral moves in the heat of the moment and deepen their capacity for self-diagnosis and reflection is hard work.” Bordone and his staff at the Harvard Negotiation and Mediation Clinical Program use the teaching technique of “fishbowls” in the HLS classroom to great effect—in which the professor moderates a live negotiation, with teaching assistants role playing the negotiation and students stopping the action frequently to discuss the proceedings as they unfold. But when teaching executive education classes where time and teaching staff might be more limited or when teaching to very large groups, it is often difficult to use these live “fishbowls.” Hoping to bring the fishbowl technique to more classrooms, Bordone and colleagues Toby Berkman and Chad Carr spearheaded the Critical Decisions in Negotiation project, now available as a 3-DVD set on the Case Studies portal.

The video blends negotiation footage, reflections from the negotiation participants, and guiding explanations and suggestions from Bordone. Eight pairs of negotiators—real attorneys and contracting professionals from the Boston area—were filmed negotiating “Iqbal’s Big Venture,” an HNMCP simulation about a biotech licensing agreement. To encourage candid proceedings, the participants received factual information and encouragement to treat the simulation genuinely and act in the best interests of their client. The fishbowl-style reflections were filmed after the negotiations ended, so as not to influence the outcomes. The final cuts feature four pairs of negotiators, whose interactions offered the most salient opportunities for analysis and interpretation. Packaged with a detailed teaching note, the video may be used on its own or in conjunction with the simulation.

The DVD focuses on three areas of instruction: openings and process, dealing with difficult tactics, and active listening and effective assertion. Like the fishbowl technique, the video draws out an oft-missed perspective crucial to consider while negotiating: that of the negotiator sitting across the table. Bordone explains: “Students almost always question whether a problem-solving negotiation strategy will work outside of the classroom context when their counterparts may not have been trained in the same methods. They are unsure how to respond to negotiators who appear to be using hard bargaining or other challenging behaviors. They fear that persisting with a problem-solving strategy will leave themselves open to exploitation.” These challenges do arise in the footage, and Bordone directs viewers to responses that successfully counter these obstacles.

The negotiations are unscripted, and Bordone says that watching the negotiators struggle is just as valuable as watching model behavior. For instance, none of the negotiators discussed process in much depth.We often compare being an outstanding negotiator to being an outstanding batter in baseball,” Bordone explains. “As those familiar with baseball know, some of the best hitters have a batting average of .350 or .400, meaning that they are getting on base by hitting the ball only 35 to 40 percent of the time.” This teaching tool, Bordone says, fosters self-confidence in aspiring or fledgling lawyers: “Seeing law firm partners and well-seasoned negotiating professionals struggle to negotiate effectively makes students realize how much they have learned and how many skills they have already developed.”

For a further look into the making of Critical Decisions, check out Bordone and Carr’s piece in Negotiation Journal.

Have you used Critical Decisions in Negotiation in your classroom? We’d love to hear about your experience! Email us at  

About Elizabeth Moroney

Case Studies Editorial Assistant
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