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Negotiations in a Virtual Reality

Can we already go beyond online conference calls and shift negotiations into virtual reality as a next step in the digital transformation? ZHAW senior lecturer Khaldoun Dia-Eddine challenged himself and his students to test their negotiation skills in such a new setting. Thanks to the Mixed Reality Lab of the School of Management and Law, the virtual worlds could be experienced in the classroom.

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Brave New Virtual World

Two different experiences were established on the basis of a collaboration with the Mixed Reality Lab that set up of the necessary hardware and Software. The advice and the presence of their staff were of great help to make this possible.

From digital storytelling to negotiating with VR headsets

The first application was aimed at enhancing communication skills while negotiating. The setting is a virtual space that can be joined using virtual reality headsets. In this new reality students were facing a team of a fictional company consisting of four people. These avatars posed questions and the student who met them virtually had to answer them. The focus of this meeting was not on the content of the exchange but on the face-to-face communication: The speed of the words was measured by a quasi-artificial intelligence software which then proposed to the students for instance hints regarding eye contact or head position. The software also delivered an analysis about words that have been used repeatedly, the fillings used and the delays and offered recommendations about these points. The students in the class were able to follow the scene that the student experienced virtually in the classroom.

The second exercise was related to negotiation in a virtual space, where both negotiators were separated physically but meeting virtually in a given space. Each student saw – in his or her VR glasses – only an avatar representing the other student. The task was to conduct a role play based on a guideline while the class was following the negotiation as if they were present in the virtual space.

Learnings

While the first exercise was conclusive and brought good results and training and was offering new practical information to the students, the second experience was not so conclusive. Two problems were evident: The first one concerning the band width of the Wi-Fi which didn’t deliver the needed capacities. The result was interruptions in the audio channel making the negotiation difficult and sometimes delayed. The second was the presentations in the virtual space. Under these circumstances a video conference would have been more evident and conclusive.

In conclusion, the first experience is certainly worth to be repeated with some improvements in the set-up and preparations. The Software could be enhanced and offer more details whether in the form of live instructions, while negotiating, or at the end in the form of a comprehensive report. As for the second experience, the demand in Wi-Fi band width, the weak and primitive virtual space resolution and the non-presentation of the counterpart are all elements giving the advantage to the conventional commercial videoconference systems (MS Teams, Webex, Zoom), which are much more suitable for face-to-face negotiations. This certainly poses the question if this second part of the experience should be repeated in the next semesters.

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