Negotiation Training and Interpersonal Development: An Exploratory Study of Early Adolescents in Argentina

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ABSTRACT

This paper reports findings from an exploratory outcome study of the Program for Young Negotiators training model with early adolescents in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Youth between the ages of 10 and 15 years (135 females, 70 males) were assessed before and after negotiation training, based on two measures of psychosocial attitudes and behavior. On the Five Factor Negotiation Scale (Nakkula & Nikitopoulos, 1999a), an increase in overall negotiation attitudes and behavior was found, with particularly large increases in the domains of conflict-based perspective taking and behavioral approaches to conflict resolution. On the Relationship Questionnaire, Schultz and Selman's (1999) structural developmental measure of psychosocial competence, stronger than expected changes were found in overall competence, with fairly equal changes in the primary domains of interpersonal understanding, interpersonal skills, and the personal meaning of relationships. Finally, students who presented a pretest thought-action gap marked by a high level of interpersonal understanding relative to their level of interpersonal skill increased substantially more in negotiation attitudes and behavior than did students manifesting a gap in the opposite direction. Implications regarding who benefits most from negotiation training are discussed.

It is widely acknowledged that the years between late elementary school and early high school are pivotal to the establishment of skills and attitudes that influence social behavior across a range of interpersonal contexts (Sullivan, 1953; Shure, 1989; Savin-Williams & Berndt, 1990). At the core of this pivotal transition is the developmental growth of abstract or formal operational thought (Inhelder & Piaget, 1958), which carries multiple implications for social cognition and interpersonal functioning (Selman, 1980; Vygotsky, 1979). One of these implications is the nature of thought and action that early adolescents bring to conflict-based interactions with friends, family, and other important individuals. Although a host of conflict resolution approaches have been developed for children and adolescents (Bodine & Crawford, 1998; Deutsch, 1973, 1993; Girard & Koch; 1996; Kreidler, 1984), previous research has not carefully addressed the fit between these approaches and the developmental needs and capacities of the target audiences. In this exploratory study, we examine potential benefits of a negotiation training approach for early adolescents, including growth in social competence. We also examine differential outcomes in the enhancement of negotiation attitudes and behaviors, based on differing degrees of developmental readiness at the outset of the training.

We initiated this study of the Young Negotiators (Curhan, 1998) approach to problem solving and conflict resolution because of its emphasis on training early adolescents to think and act more complexly across a range of negotiation contexts. The curriculum's emphasis on moving from self-centered approaches toward cooperative and collaborative approaches to problem solving is consistent with the shift in social cognitive functioning during this age period (Selman, 1980; Vygotsky, 1978). In addition, the curricular structure of moving from simple conceptual and strategic tasks to more complex concepts and behavioral strategies over a ten-module, sequentially ordered training approach provides the scaffolding that researchers have found important to the development of advanced social skill acquisition (Fischer, 1980; Vygotsky, 1979; Wertsch, 1985).

Based on the fit between the Young Negotiators curriculum and the developmental needs and capacities of early adolescents, we generated the following research questions and hypotheses to guide our investigation.

1. Will students' scores on a standardized measure of adolescent negotiation improve following their participation in the training? We hypothesized that the negotiation scores would improve because of the fit between the training approach and the developmental needs and capacities of early adolescents. …