How to apply conflict resolution and negotiation theories and processes to managerial best practices in the workplace.
Gary Nichols ’87, who earned a bachelor’s in marketing from UCF and has been teaching at the university since 2006
When is it offered?
Fall, spring and summer semesters every year
How many students are in a class?
40 to 50
Students must be at least a sophomore to enroll; however, the course is open to majors and nonmajors.
From the Professor
Why is this course offered?
It is a core course for the management department and it is now also opened up as an elective for several other majors within the College of Business. It is one I know our leadership is looking to make available to students for other colleges.
I don’t care what your major is, are you going to be dealing with people? If so, then you’re going to be dealing with conflict, so it’s really useful for anyone.
This is a class where you will learn valuable skills that you can take with you personally, professionally and socially and immediately apply. Students can leave my first class and call their cable company, phone company or internet provider and negotiate. The only way you’re going to get good at problem solving, resolving conflict and negotiating is to do it.
How would you describe this course in five words or less?
Learning conflict resolution/negotiation interactively.
What are three things students will learn?
1. The importance of preparation.
Most times we go into a conflict, negotiation, meeting or decision-making mode and we lack the information we need in order to do well. So if we put the effort in up front in preparing — learning about the opposing side, the issue, etc. — when it comes time to negotiate you’re going to be better prepared. Preparation is 80 percent of the effort.
2. Understanding negotiation strategies.
There are five different strategies you can undertake in negotiating conflict. Avoidance, accommodation, competition, compromise and collaboration.
Most people’s default is avoidance because it’s easy, but it [creates] a lose-lose outcome because the issue isn’t being dealt with at the least, and at the worst it’s going to get worse.
Accommodation happens when one party realizes their stance isn’t as important to them as their relationship with the other party, or that the issue in general is more important to the other person than it is to them. So one person will give up on their side for the other’s benefit and this creates a lose-win outcome.
Competition, a lose-win strategy, is really common in the American society due to sports, and is based around the mindset of winning at someone else’s expense.
Compromise is actually a lose-lose strategy because, while each party leaves with something they wanted, both end up feeling they could have gained a little more if they put more time, effort and energy into the negotiation, which leads to collaboration.
Collaboration is the most ideal strategy to follow. It creates a win-win outcome because both sides work together to satisfy what they both want.
3. Recognizing negotiating tactics.
Negotiation tactics, which are subordinate to the strategies, are used to either manipulate the other side or they’re used to bring equality or parity back to the situation. Depending on the situation, different tactics can be employed. For example, there is the “feel, felt, found” tactic, which plays into an empathetic situation by stating, “I understand how you feel, I felt the same way, but I found out…,” and this is where you state information that supports your argument.
Oftentimes the thing about these tactics that is so important isn’t necessarily for students to [learn how to] use them, but if you’re armed with the identification of what the tactics are, you know they’re being used against you.
What’s the classwork like?
There are reading materials, quizzes, online quizzes and three exams, which are based on lectures and reading materials. I expect students to dive into the material before the lecture so we can have a discussion in class.
They do in-class exercises with varying degrees of negotiation and problem solving with their classmates [in different group pairings,] from one-on-one, to four-on-four, and to two-on-four-on-six.
Sometimes I’ll give them out-of-class assignments, one of which is to engage in a nontrivial negotiation. So they might have to try and negotiate a better deal on their cellphone or cable bill, things of that nature.
I get some grief because I take attendance and it’s a part of my grading, but you can’t learn in an interactive class if you’re not there. You can’t participate and share your experiences. I share my experiences, but I open it up to the students because it’s easier for them to relate to one another than me.
Why is it so difficult for people to deal with conflict?
A big part of negotiating conflict is fear. Fear of what the other party is going to do, what the other party is going to say and how they’re going to react. But what’s the worst thing that can happen, someone saying “No”?
The last thing you cando is negotiate and problem-solve when emotions are high. We talk about avoidance, not that you don’t want to deal with [the issue], but at some point we have to learn that maybe right now isn’t a good time. While the emotions are so high we aren’t going to get anywhere.
That’s when you have to employ all your communication, listening skills and emotional intelligence. These are skills that can be learned, but you’ve got to want to put them into place and train yourself to use them.
What should people keep in mind when dealing with conflict or negotiations?
A lot of what we teach is how you frame it, what you give to people. Sometimes when we try to resolve conflict or negotiate, the reason people say “No” isn’t because of what we asked, but how and when we asked.
Also, never argue with an idiot because they will beat you down to their level and beat you with experience.
From the Student
Catherine Jauch ’18, who majored in psychology and management
Why did you take this class?
I took the Conflict Resolution and Negotiation course the summer before I graduated as a requirement for my management major, but I had my capstone course with Gary Nichols and really, enjoyed that so I knew this would be a good class.
What was the most challenging part of the class?
In the beginning of the semester, you feel a little bit goofy because you’re practicing these fake negotiations, but by the end of it people get really into it and gain confidence. Although it’s a little awkward, all of your classmates are in the same boat as you trying to figure out how to negotiate this made-up scenario. But it ends up being fun and by the end of the class we’re really comfortable with it.
Have you found any specific techniques to be helpful in negotiation?
A technique that I’ve learned and found to be helpful is bundling issues together, so instead of negotiating on one issue you negotiate on a few different issues. I would do this when I [graduated and] was getting a lot of job offers. So for instance if [a company] wasn’t flexible on the pay they were offering, I’d ask “Okay, are the pay and/or benefits flexible?” This presents them two different avenues and sort of opens up the negotiation. I just accepted a position for a management development program at a distribution company.
The other important thing that I learned was you want to make it win-win for both sides of the negotiations.
How did this course help you develop personally and professionally?
I think the biggest thing I learned was just having the confidence to negotiate. I had never really negotiated anything at all before this class, so I had a lack of confidence.
I think this class makes you a more assertive person because you practice negotiating all the time. It’s a very hands-on class. I’m more confident in all regards now. Everything is negotiable and it’s always in your best interest to negotiate so you shouldn’t be scared.