Negotiating smarter: How AI might change the game

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The rapid advent of artificial intelligence (AI) has sparked profound transformations in various facets of work, also in the area of negotiations. With the gradual integration of AI technologies into professional processes worldwide, a paradigm shift is affecting the way institutions and businesses are conceiving their strategy and their ability to access new opportunities through negotiations.

AI is a key element in the digital transition and a priority for the European Union (EU). The European Commission recently highlighted how AI systems are already used internally through a communication published in January 2024. For example, for tasks such as translation and summarising, they are using eTranslation and eSummary. The AI Publio answers questions from citizens who would like to know more about the EU, its functioning, and its people. Another example is DORIS Drive-in, which is used for analysing the feedback sent by European citizens through sentiment analysis, keyword extraction, and summarisation.

More than just AI awareness, businesses and public administrations need to develop their AI literacy, to enhance their negotiation skills and reach their objectives, as Michaela Sullivan-Paul, EIPA’s Researcher on Digital Protections and Cybersecurity, stressed in her last blogpost.

In any negotiation processes, negotiators and their teams need to have access to a lot of information to handle multidimensional issues – this is where AI may bring added value to the preparation phases of negotiation. As we navigate this dynamic landscape, it becomes increasingly evident that synergy between human intelligence and artificial intelligence holds the potential to unlock new ways of building strategy, and methods for improving expected results of future negotiations.

robot hand playing chess with human hand

What does AI mean?

There is no universal definition of AI. The AI Act defines an AI system as ‘a machine-based system designed to operate with varying levels of autonomy and that may exhibit adaptiveness after deployment and that, for explicit or implicit objectives, infers, from the input it receives, how to generate outputs such as predictions, content, recommendations, or decisions that can influence physical or virtual environments’. This follows the OECD’s latest definition.

Can AI tools bring added value for negotiations?

The potential added value of AI systems can be seen in the fact that small differences in the quality of data and insights available to negotiators can have a big impact on the overall outcome of the negotiation. This added value can be analysed through the computational, social, and procedural axes, a three-dimensional approach we have explained in this article.

  • Impact on the social axis

Cultural sensitivity should always be considered throughout the negotiation process. Here, an AI-powered assistant can help negotiators to interact more effectively with parties from different cultural backgrounds, and improve cultural sensitivity by enabling negotiators to better understand social and cultural nuances, whether expressed through language, social customs or diplomatic traditions, for instance.

To understand the nuances of language including slang, idioms, and cultural references, AI systems are using natural language processing (NLP) to provide insights into the most appropriate ways to communicate, according to statistical inference. For instance, they can suggest lists of words not to use, and explanations on the importance of non-verbal communication (e.g. the use of specific body gestures or the management of proxemics in social interactions) depending on the culture of the negotiating partners.

AI systems could also be useful to gain a better idea of the cultural difference in the perception of a negotiation and its expected result. For instance, the sequencing between formal and informal rounds of discussion or time management can be perceived and handled differently from one side of the table to the other. Furthermore, by processing large amounts of data on the relationship between stakeholders available online, these AI tools can highlight key trends or tips that can help negotiators understand the right way to approach the negotiation process according to contextual considerations.

  • Impact on the procedural axis

AI-powered analytics can be used to gain insight into the logistical context of a negotiation. Preparation of any negotiation needs to pay careful attention to the logistical setting of the negotiation, such as the possible impact of the location on negotiations. For instance, bilateral negotiations and multilateral negotiations will require different logistical needs in terms of coordination, rules, agenda setting, or interpretation and potential mediation. These insights regarding explicit rules could be supported by AI, which could provide insights into the formal rules, social norms, and unwritten conventions.

AI can reveal useful contextual insights for negotiation, including communication styles, power dynamics, or agenda setting. Through the use of machine learning algorithms for the analysis of language choices, speaking time, and interruption, AI systems are able to learn from past negotiation experiences and identify recurring patterns in power dynamics among participants. Furthermore, the decision-making process tends to be simpler and more straightforward in bilateral settings. However, for multilateral settings, consensus-building tends to be rather complex and time-consuming because of a high number of stakeholders involved, often resulting in longer processes. AI can quickly explain the decision-making context, by summarising insights from officials, and publicly-available documents related to formal rules of procedures.

  • Impact on the computational axis

By adding these details to AI systems, they could simulate scenarios of negotiation with various options based on specific criteria related to different plausible contexts. By considering information about the issue being discussed, the negotiators’ positions, and that of the hypothetical other stakeholder, this exercise may help train negotiators through negotiation simulations and scenarios, equipping them with the tools and practices to succeed in real-world negotiations. With role assignments and interactive communication simulating the back-and-forth negotiation process, negotiators are able to analyse the strengths and weaknesses of their strategy. This may encourage them to take the most appropriate measures to readjust their strategy. However, real negotiation involves a large number of factors – whether anticipated or not – and AI will not be able to fully anticipate these. Nevertheless, these simulations provide opportunities to generate new ideas and options to be consider during future rounds of negotiation.

With the use of a multimodal AI, specific tools can assist negotiators beyond text generation. Although the use of AI in negotiations is not yet common and accepted, AI systems using NLP have features, such as real-time information retrieval or communication analysis, that can provide real-time guidance and suggestions to negotiators through text-to-speech, allowing negotiators to converse directly with AI systems. This type of AI can analyse dialogue, identify new issues, suggest potential negotiation tactics, and make personalised recommendations to improve negotiation effectiveness, communicated through speech and text.

two men shaking hands with artificial intelligence cloud

Then, what are the snags?

AI raises ethical considerations in negotiations, particularly in terms of transparency, fairness, and accountability. The functioning of algorithms and gathering of data are generally conducted in relative obscurity by the provider, making it hard for users and deployers of AI systems to fully understand potential risks and shortcomings. In addition, through its training, AI can replicate and generate social discrimination and biases. The inputs in the training of an AI system can vary substantially from one provider to another, suggesting different technical and functional choices made by each provider and with different consequences on the spread of biases. AI is designed to give insights based on vast amounts of data. If this data is not accurate or sufficiently representative, the results are likely to be affected. Negotiators need to be aware of the inherent functional flaws of AI to avoid exploiting inaccurate information, which could directly affect the outcomes of the negotiation.

To avoid these flaws, negotiators need to learn how to use AI tools in the most ethical way. To do so, it is necessary to understand how AI works and how to fully exploit it – similar to the beginning of a collaboration with a new stakeholder – as Michaela Sullivan-Paul emphasised when mentioning the AI literacy needed for public bodies. There are ways to communicate and collaborate. The framing of the request is an essential condition of the quality and relevance of AI output, and the level of detail in its subsequent response. When writing a request to an AI assistant, the user needs to provide useful background information and clearly explain the request to maximise the benefits of AI.

The success of international negotiations depends on a myriad of factors. When the number of participants in a negotiation increases, it will become more difficult for AI tools to provide relevant insights. Verbal and non-verbal communication, undertones, implicit rules, personality traits, cultural references, and related biases are all important factors in the success of negotiations. AI can be of little help in this. The dependence on data quality, or the lack of emotional and social understanding, are a few of the limitations of AI use. Negotiation depends largely on awareness of emotional, cultural and social conditions, qualities in which AI remains limited.

sticky note with emotional intelligence written on it next to a drawing of a brain with cogs

Therefore, how could AI be used in negotiation processes?

In conclusion, AI should be seen for what it really is: a set of useful tools helping to prepare a negotiation. Like any tool, AI is useful for a specific and limited set of tasks. When misused, AI will fail to improve the negotiation process, and in the worst cases, it can even damage it. Human supervision and involvement in maximising AI output remains necessary for the final strategy.

AI will continue to change rapidly, as will society, in response to technological advances. While remaining aware of the inherent limits of AI, negotiators may consider keeping a careful eye on AI evolution and consider using AI wisely to assist part of their work. As a result, the choice seems to be less about whether to ride the wave or not, but more about how to ride it, to avoid crashing into the sand!

 

Special thanks to Michaela Sullivan-Paul, EIPA’s Researcher on Digital Protections and Cybersecurity, for her proofreading and expertise.

 

Do you have questions? Do not hesitate to contact the Negotiation Team at negotiationteam@eipa.eu

 

More on this topic

If you are interested in improving your negotiation skills and reaching your objectives, have a look at our upcoming annual training on the topic. Don’t miss this occasion to improve your negotiation skills!

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The views expressed in this blog are those of the authors and not necessarily those of EIPA.

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Artificial IntelligenceNegotiation and soft skills