Methodology

Methodology

Based on over twenty years of academic and field research by negotiation experts, Alignor’s learning games and instructional videos reflect global best practices in the field of negotiation, collaboration and related skills. The lead architect of Alignor’s learning games is John Shulman, a Harvard-educated negotiator, who has trained thousands of business leaders, managers, professionals, students, government officials, teachers, community leaders and activists around the world in the interest-based approach to negotiation, collaboration, sales, purchasing, influencing and conflict resolution.  See John’s bio.

Alignor’s work with dozens of the largest companies and government agencies across the US, Europe, Asia and Latin and South America and with successful entrepreneurs and professionals has guided the development of our learning games.  Put simply, the characters and scenarios presented in our learning games are modeled after real people and real life situations.

In our academic and field research, we asked the following questions as part of our instructional design process:

  • What makes people effective negotiators?
  • What skills are needed to build healthy and effective relationships?
  • What skills do effective leaders demonstrate?
  • What skills can learners scaffold to build confidence and competence?
  • What skills do young people most need for career and life success?
  • Why are these skills so challenging for young people to develop?
  • How can we accelerate skill development?

As we sought answers for these questions, it became increasingly clear that there were certain categories of skills exhibited by highly effective negotiators, managers and leaders.  We designed our learning games and instructional videos to teach skills within all of the following nine categories:

  • Understanding stakeholder needs
    Being able to figure out your own needs and the underlying needs that motivate others
  • Understanding your assumptions
    Being aware of the assumptions we make based on our experiences and the information available to us at a given time
  • Understanding how your actions affect others
    Being aware of how the decisions we make (or fail to make) and the actions we take (or fail to take) affect other people and their perception of us, including their perception of our motives
  • Being strategic, not reactive
    Considering the purpose of our decisions and actions before we act, so that we do not merely react to the actions or provocations of others
  • Investigating your assumptions
    Evaluating whether our assumptions are valid or if we may need to change our assumptions based on new information
  • Avoiding emotional overreactions
    Staying calm and strategic even when others provoke you, or a situation is unexpectedly difficult
  • Understanding impact of various options
    Evaluating how various possible options will satisfy or harm our interests and the interests of others before we embark on a course of action
  • Learning as you encounter new situations
    Actively seeking new experiences that may lead to discoveries of new and better ways to solve existing problems
  • Re-evaluating your needs, assumptions, risks
    Analyzing a variety of sources of information on an ongoing basis to determine what course of action will most effectively meet your needs
  • Being open to new ideas
    Inviting others to share their ideas and listening when others volunteer ideas in order to create a collaborative, problem-solving environment that may lead to new and better solutions
  • Exploring additional options
    Looking for new and better ways to meet your needs and the needs of others, particularly when “the usual way” is suboptimal
  • Re-evaluating assumptions about what is possible
    Understanding that we often limit what we believe to be possible based on our past experience and recognizing the importance of using new information to re-evaluate our existing assumptions in light of new opportunities
  • Evaluating assumptions about risk
    Using an analytical approach to think about risk, including the impact of various risks on your interests and the interests of others
  • Knowing your risk tolerance
    Being clear about how much and what kinds of risk you can bear under varying, dynamic circumstances
  • Learning from experience
    Consciously integrating new experiences into our understanding of ourselves and the people and situations we encounter
  • Knowing when to listen and when to talk
    Recognizing when and how to build trust and better understand the needs of others by listening and being strategic about when to indicate our understanding of those needs by talking
  • Actively re-evaluating your assumptions
    Being open to the possibility that new information and changed circumstances warrant a re-evaluation of key assumptions that drive your decision-making
  • Confirming assumptions with others
    Finding appropriately assertive ways to confirm your assumptions with others and also facilitate other stakeholders’ evaluation of their own assumptions
  • Communicating clearly
    Being able to communicate effectively in varying contexts so that you are understood by others
  • Addressing the needs of others
    Tailoring your communication to the specific interests of others so they will understand how what you are proposing affects their interests
  • Communicating with the right methods
    Being flexible and creative so that the method of communication you use in a given context is appropriate and effective
  • Ensuring mutuality and accountability
    Finding to the extent feasible and advisable mutually beneficial options and building into the relationship sufficient accountability measures to ensure that people keep their commitments
  • Balancing short term vs. long term
    Recognizing the inherent trade-offs that often arise when considering courses of action that may satisfy either our short term needs or our longer term interests
  • Realistically assessing relationship risks
    Analyzing risk factors that uniquely affect relationships, such as harm to a person’s reputation or ego, and taking those risks into account in an overall strategic assessment of the relationship
  • Knowing when to collaborate and when to compete
    Recognizing that there are times we are better off collaborating with others and sometimes we need to protect ourselves with a competitive approach, particularly when others try to take advantage of us
  • Knowing when to walk away and when to fight
    Understanding the costs and benefits associated with walking away from conflict and from fighting with others so that you can make strategic decisions about how best to handle conflict
  • Knowing when and how to work things out
    Recognizing that you are better off resolving certain conflicts (rather than fighting or fleeing) and figuring out the best timing and methods for doing so

While there is some overlap among the nine categories of skills, we found that highly effective negotiators, leaders and managers apply specific skills within these categories.  Accordingly, we realized that for learners to become more effective negotiators, leaders and managers, they must master specific skills with each of the nine categories.  For example, in order to develop self-awareness (category 1 above), learners must a) understand stakeholder needs, b) understand their assumptions, and c) understand how their actions affect others.

We therefore built these three specific skills into some of our learning games in order to help learners develop self-awareness.  Each learning game identifies the specific skills it teaches as learning objectives.  When paired with the learning games, the instructional videos reinforce key learning points and skills in a complementary, similarly engaging format.

We built the specific skills from the nine categories above into both our learning games and instructional videos.  Each instructional video identifies at the beginning the specific skills it teaches as learning objectives.  The learning games, by contrast, maintain the element of surprise (the heart of gamification!) by delaying until the end their presentation of key learning points.  When paired with each other, the learning games and instructional videos reinforce key learning points and skills in a complementary, similarly engaging format.

The skills required for effective negotiation, collaboration, influencing, sales, purchasing, and leading and managing people are best learned through practical application and reflection guided by expert feedback. Typical “book learning,” instruction and e-learning do not deliver the same results.

In our applied research and training workshops, we found that in order to develop the key skills they need to be highly effective negotiators, leaders and managers, learners need realistic situations and role play counterparts with whom to practice the skills. In short, these are applied skills. As much as we tried—and we tried for years and consulted with numerous colleagues and reviewed available resources on the subject—we found that it is difficult, if not impossible, to create truly realistic opportunities to apply negotiation skills in a classroom environment. The problems are manifold. First, many learners lack real world experience with the types of contexts they will encounter over the course of their careers. Second, by definition, a classroom setting as a locus for negotiation exercises feels contrived; it generally does not feel “real.” Third, the quality of student participation varies widely within a given classroom and between cohorts, so that what is experienced by any given learner may be very different in quality and applicability from what others experience. Fourth, learners have a wide range of comfort levels about engaging in role play visible to their peers; the comfort level can be affected by many factors, including classroom environment, learner personality, English language proficiency, gender, and cultural backgrounds. Finally, the quality, experience and comfort of instructors with role play varies widely as well.

For these reasons, we found that computer-based simulations are the ideal medium for learning the applied skills required for effective negotiation, collaboration, influencing, sales, purchasing, and leading and managing people. These skills are most effectively learned through practical application, which makes them ideally suited for gamification, particularly, when the learning games are supported by engaging instructional videos. Learning games provide a realistic context for introducing learners to situations and experiences they would otherwise encounter only when the stakes are high in real life. For that very reason, most organizations are reluctant to take “unnecessary” risks by putting young people in high stakes situations where the young person’s “failure” might harm the organization or a bad initial experience could harm the young person’s confidence.

That is why we decided on realistic simulations with expert instructional videos as the ideal way to teach these skills. Just as airline pilots first learn to how to fly a plane from instruction on the basic principles and key concepts, then apply those principles and concepts in a computer simulator, inexperienced negotiators and managers should practice their skills in computer simulations with expert guidance available to support them. In the simulations, the scenarios presented and characters are very realistic. One senior learning and development manager in a Fortune 100 company noted that her colleagues regularly exhibit the exact same behaviors as the characters in the “Holding Team Members Accountable” game.

The learning games and instructional videos are organized by course modules. The modules are designed to teach specific skills relevant to the course module topics:
  • Sales Negotiation
  • Key Relationships
Each learning game identifies the specific skills taught in that game. The instructional videos cover related topics, such as:
  • How to increase your leverage
  • How and whether to talk about consequences
  • Dealing with people across cultures
You can select learning games and instructional videos at your discretion, based on your learning objectives. For example, you can mix and match games and instructional videos to focus on specific skills, or you can stay with the thematic consistency and structure of our course modules. Either way, skill acquisition and improvement occurs organically and dynamically, as learners connect the situations presented in the learning games and instructional videos with similar challenges they face in real life.

We find a wide level of performance among learners, particularly on different games. As a general rule, it is not important how many times a learner plays a game before she obtains a score of 100 on that game. It is more important that once she obtains a score of 100 on a given game, the learner is able to repeat that score the very next time she plays the same game. Our research indicates that the ability to obtain a score of 100 twice in a row indicates an emerging mastery of the skills taught in that game. Often, learners who score below 100 the first time they play a game and take three or four times to reach 100 appear to learn the most from the games.

With the robust reporting built into our online games portal, you can track learner performance in real time and supplement learning as needed. Two ideal ways to improve learner performance are:

  1. Play a learning game multiple times (if necessary) until the learner obtains two consecutive scores of 100 on that game; and
  2. Review instructional videos that cover topic areas relevant to the skills in a given game.

For example, if a learner is struggling with the “Saying ‘no’ without damaging relationships” game, she can review the videos on “Saying ‘no’ without damaging relationships” and “How and whether to talk about consequences.” After reviewing these videos, the learner could play the learning game again and see if she is able to increase her score.