Negotiation exercise prepares AWC students

Air Force Culture and language Center

9/17/2012 - MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. -  -- People negotiate every day. It could be as simple as deciding on a restaurant for dinner with your spouse, or as complicated as buying a new home. For military members, the stakes go even higher, especially when called on to negotiate for scarce resources in a culturally-complex environment.

The Air Force Negotiation Center of Excellence, part of the Air Force Culture and Language Center within the Air University Spaatz Academic Centers, helps prepare senior military leaders to effectively navigate these critical strategic negotiations.

Strategic negotiations
More than 240 Air War College students recently had a chance to practice their negotiation abilities as part of the NCE's "Bengalia" strategic negotiations exercise conducted at AWC Aug. 30. The exercise simulated a humanitarian crisis in the fictional nation of Bengalia, a critical U.S. partner supporting regional coalition operations. Air Force and other services' officers, Department of Defense civilians and international officers were asked to negotiate a durable agreement while dealing with time constraints and limited resources.

Mission success
Dr. Stefan Eisen, director of the NCE, led off the exercise with a lecture, telling the students, "Our span of responsibility is often far greater than our span of control. This means that senior leaders must achieve mission success working with people they have no authority over. Collaborative efforts are the new normal within DOD operations." His presentation went on to develop the NCE models that were designed to help military negotiators successfully lead and collaborate in their interdependent, complex, multiperspective world.

Concepts taught
This concept means that negotiation across many different cultures requires leaders to learn how to build trust, gather information, examine strengths and weaknesses, and continuously adapt their negotiating strategies to fit the conditions. While this sounds complex, Eisen said that AWC students are already good negotiators and the purpose of the lecture and exercise is to add tools to their negotiating skill set. The Bengalia exercise is just one way the NCE improves these skills by offering models and ideas that grow leadership and problem solving abilities.

Experience matters
"All of us have had some form of experience in negotiating whether formal or informal," said Col. James Knowles, an AWC student and Air Force general dentist. "However, I believe this was a valuable exercise in that it allowed us to get a better appreciation for the advantages and disadvantages of our own styles of negotiating and the important variables involved when negotiating and trying to resolve conflict with others."

Key roles
For the exercise, individual students were given key roles to play, including acting as the Commander of U.S. Forces Bengalia, the U.S. Ambassador for Bengalia, and the Bengalian Provincial Governor. Other students were required to act as observers during the negotiations, logging feedback for their colleagues based on the negotiation strategies they had been taught. The students faced five hours of multi-party negotiations. One of the most contentious issues was discovering the total amount of resources available to help rebuild Bengalia, and then how to best employ the limited resources.

Decision making
"It was interesting to see how the role playing affected decision making and strategies on how each main party tried to achieve their objectives," Knowles said. Although NCE exercise developers said there was no "approved solution" for the exercise, the students carefully debriefed the exercise to discover what negotiation techniques worked and how they could better solve similar problems in the future. Reflecting the "fog of war" that is often associated with complex problems, one student stated at the beginning of the exercise: "I am not sure what we are negotiating." The student, playing a member of a relief agency, however, quickly worked with his team to develop a negotiation plan. As the planning process continued, the team developed a prioritized list of relief requirements to bring to the negotiation table, setting the stage for success.

Challenges leaders
"The Bengalia exercise challenges these future senior leaders in the cross-cultural negotiating process, providing them with a low-risk environment to apply different strategies," said Eisen. He continued, "In the seminar room, there is an additional benefit. The AWC international officers bring a whole new level of perspective on negotiating in a complex environment. Their experiences and expertise lend the exercise a level of realism that is otherwise difficult to achieve in a seminar environment."

For more information on the NCE, see their website at