Course Highlight: Negotiations

November 19, 2020
Students examine situations involving interpersonal behavior and group conflict.

For years Dr. Richard Coughlan, associate professor of management, has taught Negotiations for The Richmond MBA. The course is a multidisciplinary study of concepts related to bargaining and negotiations. Students examine situations involving interpersonal behavior and group conflict.

“The course has broad appeal because at its core it is about how to successfully persuade others,” Coughlan said. “Whether you are directly involved in formal negotiations, like professionals in sales, business development and procurement, or spend your days informally selling ideas and motivating others, the principles we cover are highly relevant.”

Former students like Maria Cavagnaro, GB’19, financial planning and analysis manager at Hourigan, say the course changed how they negotiate in a professional setting.

“Negotiations was extremely beneficial to me both personally and professionally. Key concepts such as empathizing with the other party in a negotiation, as well as the importance of adequate preparation prior to any negotiation have continued to resonate strongly with me. In my current position in corporate finance, I have employed these techniques, especially when working through my company’s annual budgeting process. Ensuring you are adequately prepared with researched, thoughtful comments regarding any incremental new projects that may be pushing the budget over management expectations is important. Often, I’ll ask questions like: Why is this project important? What is the risk of not completing this project? Is there an alternative to this project that will achieve part of the goal? When the purpose of a conversation is to reduce costs, questions like these can assist a business leader in framing the importance, or ultimate lack-thereof, of projects and ultimately lead to cost efficiencies. This process of inquiry is parallel to many of the simulations we participated in during Dr. Coughlan’s class. Furthermore, remembering that the preservation of relationships, whatever the outcome of the negotiation, is especially important in the corporate setting. 

Coughlan designed the course to cover both the art and science of negotiation.

“So much of what we discuss pertains to how to better prepare for negotiations,” Coughlan said. “Of course, we also cover important concepts that arise during negotiations, including how to frame proposals and communicate your interests. As an educator, the most rewarding aspect is watching good negotiators become great negotiators over the course of the semester as they navigate the various role-play scenarios while applying what they have learned in class discussions.” 

Michael Johnson, GB’12, is one of those “good negotiators” who didn’t think he needed to take the course.

“I had already completed numerous negotiation trainings through work so I thought I had seen every situation and knew what the person across the table was thinking. Dr. Coughlan's negotiation training was a real eye opener. If memory serves me right, I don't think I ever knew the other side's negotiation strategy while we were going through the role play scenarios, which says a lot about how he approaches not only the material but how he teaches the class,” Johnson said. “In terms of how it has served me, it's really through the development and leadership of others. I'm rarely in one-on-one negotiations professionally anymore, but my team is. Using his strategies, I'm able to help people on my team think differently and critically as they begin to get ramped up for a negotiation. I even continue to use the role-playing scenarios to make sure they can handle the pressure while they're at the table negotiating.”

You can find out more about Negotiations, and our other course offerings here.