Negotiator Pro. (decision support software) (evaluation)
by Daniel Janal
Scads of books, audiotapes, and training sessions have been dedicated to the delicate art of negotiating. Now there's a software program that promises to provide expert advice molded to fit your negotiating style and, moreover, to propose strategies that will help you work effectively to reach a mutually agreeable solution.
Negotiator Pro is based on 15 leading books, including the best-selling Getting to Yes, and draws on such notable experts as Roger Dawson, author of several helpful audiotape programs and books. One of the program's strengths is its hypertext system, an online help tool that lets you see definitions of highlighted terms. If another term in the definition is highlighted, you can read that explanation as well. Hypertext allows you to perform research by free association, a very pleasant experience that stimulates creative thinking. You'll find related terms, definitions, strategies, and tips that you might not otherwise unearth using a printed text. You'll find the information when you need it so you can use it for maximum effect.
First, categorize your negotiating style. Negotiator Pro asks ten questions concerning your style of time management, use of threats, methods of revealing information, and likelihood of giving concessions. The results tell you whether you are cooperative or competitive. You repeat the process for your opponent.
How well does this system work? I left one question blank because I couldn't decide how to answer. However, when Negotiator Pro read my other answers, it suggested how I would have answered that question--a nice touch that makes me believe that you can get a fairly good idea of personality styles based on just a few questions. However, I had limited information for my opponent and can't believe that Negotiator Pro could have made an intelligent guess on answer that I really wasn't sure of. Still, if you have some knowledge of your opponent, this tool could provide further useful insights.
The computer selects the most effective negotiating style and displays suggestions on the screen. For instance, I have an amiable style, as does my opponent. The computer advised this strategy: Be somewhat like them; be friendly and informal. Ask personal questions. Be nonthreatening, consitent, and professional. Don't push too hard, but gently use objective criteria and time limits to help the amiable reach closure. Be reassuring and stress the benefits to all the people that would flow if your interests are fulfilled. Show how everyone benefits in a win-win outcome. This paragraph contains a lot of practical advice.
The next step involves the creation of an action plan and briefing book to guide your team through the negotiating process. The program presents an outline of 35 stages of negotiating, such as opening gambits, midpoint tactics, and approaches to closing. After you select a topic, the computer takes you to a small word processor, which allows you type your ideas, goals, and strategies.
If you're strapped for time, Negotiator Pro will present you with the top ten outline topics. Whichever method you choose, you can also import text from other programs, so if you assign part of the plan to others, you won't have to reenter the text--merely integrate their work with yours. When you've finished, you can print the document and present it to each member of your team. The publisher stresses this feature because if participants enter the negotiating sessions in latter stages, they will have the benefit of reading this master plan to gain insight into the other side's negotiating character and your side's goals and strategies.
While clear, the manual could be better organized. It includes 35 pages of definitions and negotiating tips, but not all the hypertext terms are listed. Why were some terms and strategies included but not others? What was the distinction? The manual does contain a wealth of information, but it is presented in alphabetical order, rather than categorized by strategies or skills. In short, the material is interesting, but not as valuable as it would be with more logical organization.
Each time you use the program, you must specify the appropriate batch file to load your computer's monitor type. This is a minor flaw, but a dated process. You also must unload all TSRs as the program uses all 640K memory. I failed to do this initially and found myself waiting literally 15 minutes as the computer displayed a collecting memory message on the screen, which led me to believe the computer was working. In reality, the computer was hung up. A toll call to the company for support resulted in a phone message and the promise of a return call the next day. The courteous chief programmer called with the answer the next morning. Despite the flaws with the manual and installation, Negotiator Pro will help you organize your thoughts, brainstorm, and gain insight into your own needs and wants as well as those of your opponents. That's a pretty good compromise.