The wonderful world of online education

I am a big fan of online learning and have done many Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC’s) on Coursera (

Last year I participated in an online course in « Negotiation & Influence » at Yale University ( thanks to the faculty development fund of BSL. It was my objective to update myself on these topics, because I teach a class on Business Ethics and Negotiation at BSL.

In addition to learning new fun stuff, this course helped me to put myself in the shoes of my students. I realized that I couldn’t always answer all questions in the weekly quizzes even though I had listened attentively to all the video lectures. This reminded me not to be disappointed when the same thing happens to my students. You just cannot expect students to remember or understand everything that you said just once in class. Of course, everything is crystal clear to you as a teacher, also because you are deep into your topic and have given the class before. Forgetting this is a common “déformation professionelle” of teachers. You always must try harder, repeat, document, and check if students have understood, let them repeat what the task was, be patient and never take it personally.

Besides this more general lesson in self-awareness, this course was extremely useful to get new ideas for my own course.

On the other hand, I was a bit skeptical: Can you really teach a highly interactive skill like negotiating online? Of course, in negotiation you must learn basic concepts like how to prepare for a negotiation, how to haggle, or how to close a deal, but in the end, you always learn the most if you actually negotiate. I was curious to find out how you could run role play negotiations in the virtual space.

It turned out that negotiating online is no problem at all. My fellow students and I met on a special online platform, or we negotiated via WhatsApp or Skype. Every week during this two-month course, we were assigned to classmates that were in our time zone. Of course, it was different from face to face negotiation, but I found it almost as good. Furthermore, in today’s world many negotiations do take place on the phone, on Skype or via email.

What I really liked about the course was its broad focus. As the title “Negotiation & Influence” implies, it went far beyond simply trying to get the biggest piece of the pie. Indeed, negotiation is so much more! It is basically a decision-making process that you need every time you cannot achieve your goals alone (this nice definition comes from the godmother of negotiation, Leigh Thompson, and is the foundation of the course I teach). In today’s business world, it is virtually impossible to achieve our goals alone. This is why negotiation is so important.

If we look at negotiation like this, it is also clear that things like relationships and trust are key. According to research, the “subjective value” of a negotiation (i.e. did I have a good relationship with my partner, did I feel treated with fairness, did I feel good during the negotiation) is even more important than the objective mostly monetary value I achieve in a negotiation.  Even if the objective value one gains from a negotiation is positive, this “victory” is not sustainable if you felt uncomfortable with your negotiation partner, or felt rushed or treated with disrespect.

However, if the partners both enjoyed the interaction, they have a great foundation for the future. One study even shows that job applicants that experienced positive subjective value during their salary negotiations were more likely to like their job and stay in their job one year after the job negotiations (

You did not only learn theoretically about this concept of subjective value in negotiations, but even found out how your negotiation partners experienced you with respect to the subjective value you brought to the table. After every round of negotiation, we filled out a questionnaire ( about how we felt about ourselves and our partners during the negotiation, and so did our partners. That way, we received a highly individualized feedback on how we were perceived as negotiation partners in comparison to how we experienced it ourselves.

Another highlight of this course was learning how to deal with difficult negotiation tactics like stonewalling, threats or insults. Here the key is not to succumb to the impulsive reaction of either surrendering to these tactics, mimic them or quit the negotiation. Firstly, you need to avoid emotional reactions and try to look at the situation with detachment. This strategy is called “going to the balcony”. It takes some practice, but once you created this kind of emotional distance it is much easier to either simply ignore the mean tactics or deflect them by either asking smart questions (Please explain to me why the price is suddenly so important?) or naming the game (We came here to negotiate with respect. You do not need to insult me. Can we please continue differently now?). We had to apply evil tactics in one of our role plays and this was especially eye-opening as we changed roles: First my partner tested all kinds of difficult tactics with me and I had to try to stay calm, detached and reasonable. Then we switched roles. I must admit that continuing to be evil was pretty hard, because my partner did a great job in staying calm and reasonable!

In conclusion, online courses are a great way to update yourself on the state of the art of your field, you get new ideas for your own teaching and you stay in touch with the students’ experience. I am already looking for my next MOOC.


Prof.-Bettina-PalazzoAuthor: Dr. Bettina Palazzo
Professor at BSL