What to eat for dinner. Who’s picking the kids up. Which movie to see. What time to go to the gym. Negotiation is a fundamental aspect of being a human being—and not just when it comes to buying a house or a car, landing a new client or scoring a raise. Every day is full of negotiated moments.
For the most part, we barter for all these small choices via email or text message, using emojis to express a more nuanced reaction (including the upside-down smile). If we’re lucky, we get some coaching or training on the job—so we think of it as an expensive skill taught by a human expert.
Emmanuel Johnson has found that artificial intelligence (AI)—in the form of a virtual agent—is actually a more effective instructor than a typical (human-led) workshop when it comes to teaching this most human of skills. Johnson is a University of Southern California Ph.D. student and NSF Fellow at the university’s Institute for Creative Technologies Emotion Group, advised by Jonathan Gratch.
The Emotion Group studies how human emotion affects the decisions people make, and how technology should be designed to understand and respond to human emotion. Johnson notes that negotiations are a rich source of emotions. “A lot of people are very nervous when they negotiate, and there is something on the line, so people are very jaded.” The group found people get better at negotiation when they practice, even if it’s practicing with a virtual agent—even testing the practice of lying.
The research led Johnson to ask how that knowledge could be used to train people to become better negotiators.