Teaching Negotiation in Leadership Terms to ELLs

Hello, ESPers worldwide!

In Japan, I sometimes have the learners in a class stand and look at the board on which I have written the word “negotiation.” I then say to the students, “You can sit down when you have given me another word for ‘negotiation.’” My aim in doing this activity is to understand my students’ conceptualizations of negotiation before I share with them my own. After all of the students are seated, I tell them the following story about an orange, which I first heard from a friend years ago and have continued to modify (when I tell it). In a recent class of adult learners, I told (slowly, clearly, and with gestures) the following:

There was an orange. I think the orange was imported from California, my home state. The orange was on a table. The table was in a dining room. The dining room was in a house. In the house, there were a brother and a sister. [Note: I elicit from the students which sibling was older.] The brother and sister entered the dining room at the same time. They both looked at the orange on the table. Then they looked at each other. What do you think happened next? [Note: I elicit responses.] Actually, they raced to the table, but the older sibling, who was faster, reached the orange first. What do you think happened next?

I continue telling the story and involving the students as above. In doing so, I introduce the following points:

  • The orange was “in demand” (i.e., they both wanted the orange).
  • The older sibling was stronger (i.e., the more powerful party in the negotiation).
  • The younger sibling could try to use the power of emotional persuasion or pathos (e.g., crying and displaying tears) to convince the older sibling to share the orange.
  • If emotional persuasion did not work, the younger sibling could cry out for the help of Mom, who would become the mediator in the negotiation.
  • If Mom was not at home, but there was a knife on the table, the younger sibling could grab the knife and… [Note: I stop and tell the students that we are not going to go in that direction. This is a nonviolent story.]
  • If the knife was on the table, and the siblings agreed to share the orange, what would be the fair way to do so? [Note: I describe some options and elicit that one sibling cuts, and the other sibling chooses first.]
  • Finally, I share the following conclusion. As the older sibling starts to walk off with the orange, the younger sibling says, “Wait! Why do you want the orange? I need it to bake a cake. I only want the orange peel.” The older sibling wants to eat the fruit.
  • By asking questions for underlying reasons, they could come to a win-win agreement.

Next, I ask my students how negotiation, as conceptualized in the orange story, and leadership are related. I then explain that I conceptualize leadership as involving communication: 1) to create a vision, and 2) to achieve that vision. I then elicit from the students that negotiating is “communicating to create a vision.” To illustrate this point, I give them an example of going out to dinner.

A: I feel like eating pizza tonight.

B: Really? We had that last week. Let’s get sushi.

A: Again? We always eat sushi.

B: Hmm. Where can we get pizza and sushi in the same place?

A: I guess we could go shopping at the supermarket or eat out at the new food court. We can also have both delivered. Do you want to eat at home or go out somewhere?

In the dialog above, there are two visions. The vision of speaker A, and the vision of speaker B. (This idea of two visions clashing and causing problems appears in some of the business case studies that I teach.) I show students that in a negotiation, we want to communicate with the aim to “create” a win-win vision. It is not about compromise. It is about identifying the reasons underlying different positions in order to create the best way to meet both of our needs.

As I read the ESP project leader profiles, I am now paying more attention to the different visions of the ESP practitioner and the client. How do ESPers communicate effectively to create a shared vision? Read the ESP project leader profiles to learn more.

All the best,


Note: Go here to see the ESP project leader profiles and more.

About Kevin Knight

Kevin Knight
Kevin Knight (PhD in Linguistics, MBA, MPIA) is an associate professor in the Department of International Communication (International Business Career major) and has also been working in the Career Education Center of Kanda University of International Studies in Chiba, Japan. In the TESOL ESP Interest Section (ESPIS), he has served as chair and English in occupational settings (EOS) representative, and he is currently the ESPIS community manager. He was also a member of the Governance Review Task Force (GRTF) appointed by the board of directors. In addition, he has been a TESOL blogger in the area of English for Specific Purposes (ESP). He has more than 30 years of professional experience working for private, public, and academic sector institutions including Sony and the Japan Patent Office. His doctoral research on leadership communication (i.e., discourse) as a basis for leadership development was under the supervision of Emeritus Professor Christopher Candlin and Dr. Alan Jones.
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4 Responses to Teaching Negotiation in Leadership Terms to ELLs

  1. uzma says:

    thank you Kevin: now conceptualization becomes easy and how practically the negotiating skill be developed among students by generating their interest.

  2. Margaret van Naerssen says:

    I like Kevin’s general idea for introducing a concept–and it could be used for other concepts.
    He says: “My aim in doing this activity is to understand my students’ conceptualizations of negotiation before I share with them my own.” Building on what they bring.
    Not sure my grad students would buy into the idea of having to stand until giving a response
    Still– this is a reminder to be sure all have given a response, another word for the concept. But I guess having them stand until giving a response might push them to respond since they might want to sit down. And standing does get students moving–not just sitting at their desks.
    Thanks, Kevin–
    I’ve started my introduction to second language acquisition by asking “How is growing mushrooms like language development?” I bring in a box of mushroom soil, a couple of mushrooms for a visual.

    I put their responses on the board. Contextual note: Our university is very near an agricultural center for mushroom production. Also, there’s a mushroom festival in the early fall–about the time my Fall course starts.

  3. ံHtay Htay Swe says:

    Thank you for your kindly sharing and all are really valuable for me.

  4. Nahida El Assi says:

    Thank you for sharing this, Kevin. Ideas are really interesting, creative, and practical.

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