The Zen of high stakes negotiation

By Soren Malmborg

How does one transform a sometimes hostile, high stakes negotiation into an empathic process of cooperation? That question has puzzled and frustrated negotiators for decades. A while ago, I sat down for a chat about preparing for high stakes negotiations with Stephen Kozicki, best-selling author, business educator and Australia’s leading specialist in breakthrough business strategies. How he handles high-stakes negotiations will most likely change the way you think about role-play simulation.

 Tools of the trade

Stephen’s answer to the time old question of turning hostility into cooperation is really quite simple.

Stephen and his colleagues at Gordian Business use custom written role-play simulations. According to Stephen, the role-plays provide the pressure of a real-life situation and enable participants to learn from each other. Watching, listening and learning from other role-playing participants is a crucial aspect of Stephens approach to negotiation; because according to Stephen it is all about changing behavior through “empathy”.

 “We use role-plays to help change behaviors”

Stephen explains: “When a client is preparing for a large negotiation, we will get diverse teams together to work on the negotiation and we will use a role-play to focus. Role-plays often become great team building exercises, but above all we use role-plays to help change behaviors. We use it to help participants move out of their comfort zone in a safe environment. At the end of the role-play, we facilitate discussions to help them decide on the best outcome for the problem/opportunity that they are working on in the workshop”.

 Stephen’s point is simple and powerful; to come up with novel, mutually beneficial ideas, you must truly feel and understand your own and your counterpart’s needs and interests. You should note that the insight gained through role-play is not used to undermine or undercut the counterpart. In contrast, it resembles the methods used by mediators – helping the conflicting parties gain an appreciation of each other - thereby transforming the conflict. 

 Stephen and Gordian Business are not the only experts who believe in the transformative power of role-play. In their study “Auditor Negotiations: An Examination of the Efficacy of Intervention Methods“, Wright & Trotman illustrate just how effective this method is when trying to understand, empathize and (through that) reach a win-win outcome with a negotiation counterpart.

 Spreading the word

The need for better negotiation practices has lead Stephen to be an outspoken and passionate about developing negotiation skills. Stephen is one of those tireless professionals dedicated to spreading best practices and lessons-learned. He is amongst a small band of speakers who have been invited to deliver a session for the American Society of Training and Development in the USA. As one of Australia’s leading negotiation and influencing specialists, Stephen presents negotiation programs at the University of Technology, Sydney, Australia. His programs have been delivered to many organizations throughout the Asian region.

 Stephen is furthermore the author of the best-selling book, The Creative Negotiator, which is now in its third reprint and is being exported to Asia, Europe and the United Kingdom. Finally and only recently, Stephen has been appointed as an advisor to the Harvard Business Review Magazine (HBR).

 Useful links:

 UTS – Business School lecturer. Stephen delivers two courses there:

Strategic Negotiating for Leaders:

Strategic Account Management:

 This guest blog was written by Soren Malmborg the CEO of Outcome Simulations, a web based role-play facilitation app. Outcome’s negotiation simulation framework is taught on MBA courses in the United States of America and is featured in the book, The Ready & Able Negotiator by Seth Freeman.