Improving Outcomes in Military Negotiations through Mutual Gains Training

CBI designs a customized three-part training in mutual gains negotiation for Stryker brigades, and tailors the curriculum to negotiation challenges often encountered on the battlefield, including working with development officials and engaging civilians.

Background and Challenges

Fort Lewis, Washington is home to several U.S. Army Stryker brigades, which are multidisciplinary teams that conduct early engagement with enemies and with civilian counterparts. Within each Stryker brigade, individuals are organized into fusion cells, which combine military and intelligence personnel of varying ranks and include individuals with knowledge about governance, infrastructure, and civil affairs. These hybrid groups are designed to improve battlefield knowledge, intelligence, and decision-making.

Life-and-death outcomes may hinge on how these groups negotiate. After meeting with CBI founder Lawrence Susskind, a Colonel of the 5th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, Fort Lewis, Washington, invited CBI to customize a negotiation training program based on the Mutual Gains Approach.

The CBI Approach

After assessing the negotiation challenges encountered by Stryker teams in the field, CBI develops a customized negotiation training curriculum, including a facilitation model tailored to working with development personnel and negotiation simulations tailored to engaging civilians.

CBI interviewed key staff and those with combat experience to learn how Stryker teams operate and to assess the challenges typically faced by Stryker negotiators. CBI found that these challenges ranged from the mundane (how to manage conversations, plan, and make decisions within and between units) to the exceptional (how to engage with civilian groups in Iraq and Afghanistan). When engaging with civilian groups, Stryker teams were often:

  • engaging with enemies and building trust; or
  • engaging and collaborating with their counterparts at development agencies to efficiently use resources and avoid working at cross-purposes.

In all of these situations, ‘facilitative leaders’ had to run meetings, manage vast amounts of data, set priorities, and take action in complex situations.

Based on the assessment findings, CBI designed a customized training curriculum comprising three core subjects:

  • Communication essentials - What does effective communication look like? What does it look like to speak with integrity, to listen actively, and to build trust? What does it look like to speak in terms that your counterpart can comprehend, and to make sure that you have understood your counterpart? These basic elements of communication are essential but often underdeveloped in 20- to 30-year-old officers, many of whom are combat-hardened and often speak in military jargon.
  • Facilitation and meeting management - How do you convene a group and foster a productive conversation? How do you prepare for meetings? Imagine that you’re a lieutenant and that your job is to hold biweekly meetings with 50-60 development experts. During your meetings you must solicit input as well as provide updates of on-the-ground military actions and priority targets. How will you avoid attacking sites where your development counterparts are digging wells? How can you complement the development work in your region? CBI developed a facilitation model that helped the military to prepare, manage conversations, and follow through in the context of development.
  • Agreement building - How do you motivate Afghani civilians to collaborate in resisting the Taliban? How do you build agreements that parties are likely to respect and uphold? Based on interviews with Stryker team combat leaders and supplemental research, CBI produced an original training curriculum and role play simulations to help negotiators identify interests, recognize and test assumptions, generate options, and improve engagement and agreement-building strategies.


Stryker negotiators use their new skills in Afghanistan while CBI explores the potential for an online negotiation portal to share knowledge gained in the field.

Stryker negotiators began to implement these new ideas and skills in the field once they were deployed to Afghanistan in July 2009. CBI’s customized training courses helped the Stryker Brigade negotiate more effectively and build wiser, more stable agreements with civilian and development counterparts in challenging contexts. CBI is also currently exploring the potential for an online ‘negotiations portal’. By further sharing knowledge gained in the combat theater and on base, the portal would provide ongoing organizational learning opportunities for Stryker teams in the field.