n Language Matters : Studies in the Languages of Southern Africa - Data-assisted negotiating : will it produce a new class of negotiator or destroy the ideology of negotiating?

Volume 37, Issue 2
  • ISSN : 0256-5986



The fact that corpora have hitherto been concerned, in the main, with the sampling of the general rather than the specific is only now beginning to be perceived as a weakness both of intention and of design. Except where the assistance of collocation is enlisted (Louw 2003), corpora of natural language often tell us more about language than they do about the functioning of institutions. Institutional corpora do not exist formally. Informal institutional collections of interaction are gradually being pressed into service as our first institutional corpora. Two such collections are brought into contact in this paper. Huthwaite, a firm specialising in business communication and formerly based in Sheffield, United Kingdom (UK) collected recordings of authentic negotiations in the early 1980s with a view to discovering exactly which types of language and behaviour distinguished skilled negotiators from unskilled ones. At about the same time, the first institutional 'corpus' was unwittingly being created. It was a record of a public inquiry at the Sizewell B nuclear power station in the UK. In a machine-readable form this corpus totals almost 17 million words of running text. By searching the Sizewell Corpus for the same features identified by Huthwaite as indicators of the behaviour and language of skilled negotiators, the possibility of data-assisted training in negotiating is opened up for the first time. However, such techniques may finally prove too powerful for use in settings where an ideology of institutionalised insincerity remains unchallenged by human intuition. Access to authentic data and bottom-up training may well unravel the ideology of the boardroom and threaten the institutions themselves. A new class of negotiators and a more manifestly honest world may be temporary products of this uncharted revolution.

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