West Point Negotiation Project aims sights at small-unit leader impact
September 3, 2009
It was a sunny, 112-degree day at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif. The platoon leader, a second lieutenant preparing for her first deployment to Iraq, had just finished a negotiation with the mayor of a local village.
"How do you think it went'" Maj. Aram Donigian, Department. of Behavioral Sciences and Leadership negotiation instructor, asked.
"Good," the lieutenant replied. "I was able to get the mayor to agree to assist us in the future."
"Why was that a good outcome'" Donigian asked. "Why was your negotiation approach effective'"
To these questions, the lieutenant was not as quick to reply or as confident in her responses.
Therein lie some of the challenges facing Army junior leaders today -- a lack of training with regard to understanding systems of negotiation and an inability to assess success over multiple dimensions. These are just a couple of the problems that the newly established West Point Negotiation Project has started to tackle.
"The WPNP was borne from recognition of the extent and frequency with which small unit leaders are required to negotiate during operations at home and deployed throughout the world," Donigian, WPNP co-director, said. "The West Point Negotiation Project seeks to develop tactical-level leaders' abilities to joint-problem-solve with a strong emphasis on two-way communication and a principled, merit-based negotiation approach."
While the WPNP draws cadets from across all departments, it has its roots in the "Negotiation for Leaders" course, first offered in 2006 by BS&L. Jeff Weiss, a founder of Vantage Partners and an adjunct USMA professor, understanding the need for a structured academic course to teach cadets the art and science of negotiating, collaborated with Maj. Brian Wortinger to develop and co-teach the first course.
In its fifth iteration, the course continues to receive positive feedback from both cadets and graduates now serving in deployed locations.
First Lt. Court Harris, Class of 2006, assigned to Battery F, 5th Battalion, 52nd Air Defense Artillery, discussed his use of what he learned in the class.
"Of all the classes I took over four years at West Point, I use the tools and ideas from 'Negotiation for Leaders' the most," Harris said. "Concepts such as understanding your best alternative to a negotiated agreement, separating the issue from the relationship, changing the game and many others have allowed me to achieve success in dealing with contractors, military officers from other services and the local populace.
"These ideas are so important that I've reached out to the West Point Negotiation Project team for assistance in building a curriculum to help my company leaders learn the principled negotiation system," he added.
In February, the WPNP received official funding from the Army Research Institute allowing it to launch.
The first few months were dedicated to establishing a focus of effort for enhancing the ability of Army small unit leaders to conduct negotiations in the complex and challenging situations they face, recognizing the growing importance on today's battlefield and the increased need for the warfighter to be equipped with the very best tools to complete the mission.
The WPNP's focus on effective negotiation, and particularly, principled negotiation, is viewed as addressing a current gap in content critical to the success of ground forces.
"Today's small unit leader must be equipped with more than battle drills and SOPs," Donigian said. "Today's company commander and platoon leader must be able to negotiate in highly complex, multi-party, cross-cultural situations where relationships are of the utmost importance and substance cannot be sacrificed."
In recent months, the WPNP started a number of projects that will influence tactical level negotiations Army-wide.
In May, as part of a yearlong study, the WPNP sent Donigian and four members of the Class of 2009, recent graduates of the negotiation course, to Fort Sam Houston, Texas, to gather data and instruct members of the 14th Military Intelligence Battalion, 470th Military Intelligence Brigade.
The study data will allow the assessment of the effects of a negotiation program of instruction on the perceptions, assumptions, actions and overall effectiveness of a small unit leader in conducting negotiations.
Both pre- and post-training assessments were administered, while follow-on
data gathering, both in-theater and upon redeployment, are scheduled.
Sgt. 1st Class Michael O'Neal, A Company, 14th MI Battalion, discussed the materials covered and how it applied to today's battlefields.
"There will be ample opportunity to apply the course literature in theater," O'Neal said. "The applicability of instruction ranges from interrogating detainees to negotiating with local clerics or civilians to achieve mutual goals."
O'Neal further commented on the unit's excitement about a possible future course and confirmed the overall feedback that there just is not enough emphasis on negotiation in the Army.
Additional research included visits to Fort Leavenworth, Kan., and Fort Irwin to observe how the Army trains and assesses tactical negotiation. This information will assist the WPNP in developing a negotiation handbook for tactical level leaders.
Additionally, collaborative efforts with the Institute for Creative Technologies at the University of Southern California, the Los Angeles Police Department SWAT Crisis Negotiation Team and an ARI Ethics Research team are providing opportunities for everything from virtual human negotiation simulations to moral-ethical considerations for today's negotiator.
Finally, the WPNP has drafted an Afghanistan-based negotiation case and several articles intended for publication this fall for squad, platoon and company leadership.
"In the not-too-distant future, the goal for the West Point Negotiation Project is that it becomes the 'go to' place for research, writing, teaching materials, tools and advice for enabling Army leaders to develop into effective negotiators," Weiss said. "The project will consist of intelligent and capable cadets and experienced and distinguished faculty working together on the latest negotiating challenges facing Army officers. The project will work hand-in-hand with officers deployed throughout the world, simultaneously learning from their experiences and providing them the support they need to accomplish the mission."
To learn more about the WPNP, go to the Web site -- www.wpnp.org -- or e-mail the directors at firstname.lastname@example.org.