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What is negotiation?

November 2000
What is Negotiation?

A: There are two principle negotiation theories and strategic approaches to negotiation: competitive or positional negotiation; and integrative or problem-solving or interest-based negotiation.

Distinguish Strategic Approach from Personality

While there may be some correlation between negotiation approaches and personality style, the two do not necessarily go together. For example, a competitive negotiator may be very "pleasant" to work with in terms of demeanor, but utilize extremely competitive tactics. In fact, a negotiator's pleasantries may themselves be part of an overall manipulative approach! A problem-solving negotiator may, on the other hand, be rather ornery in terms of their personality, yet effectively utilize interest-based, problem-solving strategies in negotiation.

The Best Negotiators Will Have Both Sets of Skills

It is also important to appreciate that the most effective negotiators will have a wide array of negotiation skills, both competitive and problem-solving, and will effectively mix and match these approaches depending upon what the negotiator believes will work best with a particular "negotiating partner" depending on the specific issue being negotiated and depending on the nature of the overall negotiating relationship (one-time transaction or continuing relations).

Strategies to Create Value and Claim Value

Another view of negotiation is that certain strategies and behaviors are intended to "create value" (integrative approaches) whereas other strategies and behaviors are intended to "claim value" (be that by competition or principle).

Dispute Negotiation and Transactional Negotiation

Also notice that negotiations may be divided into two types:

  • dispute negotiation, focused on resolving past facts; and
  • transaction negotiation, focused on reaching agreement for the future.

While it is often helpful to appreciate this difference between dispute negotiation and transaction negotiation, it is also beneficial to appreciate that many negotiation situations involve the resolution of both past issues as well as planning future relations.

The Competitive Approach

Competitive negotiation strategy is, essentially, a manipulative approach designed to intimidate the other party to lose confidence in their own case and to accept the competitor's demands. This approach is characterized by the following:

  • High opening demands;
  • Threats, Tension and Pressure;
  • Stretching the facts;
  • Sticking to positions;
  • Being tight lipped;
  • Want to outdo, outmaneuver the other side; and
  • Want clear victory.

When a competitive negotiator is asked how they will know that they have reached a good agreement, they may reply that the agreement is "better than fair."

Assumptions of the Competitive Approach

  • There are certain assumptions, a world view really, that lie behind the competitive approach to negotiation. This "distributive" world view includes the following assumptions: Negotiation is the division of limited resources;
  • One side's gain is the other's side's loss; and
  • A deal today will not materially affect choices available tomorrow.

Risks of the Competitive Approach

While competitive negotiation tactics are often effective in "claiming" already defined value, there are also certain risks to competitive negotiation. Foremost among these risks are damage to the negotiating relationship and a lessened overall likelihood of reaching agreement. Here is a list of the disadvantages of the competitive style:

  • Confrontation leads to rigidity;
  • There is limited analysis of merits of dispute and relevant criteria for resolving issues;There is limited development of solution alternatives;
  • It is hard to predict the outcome of the competitive approach or control the process;
  • Competitors are generally blind to joint gains;
  • Competitors threaten their future relations; and
  • Competitors are more likely to have impasse and increased costs.

The Integrative Approach

The integrative, collaborative or problem-solving approach to negotiation has been described as "enlightened self-interest," rather than the "egocentric variety." This approach consists of joint problem-solving, where gains are not necessarily viewed as at the expense of the other party.

Assumptions of the Integrative Approach

As one might expect, there is a different world view behind the integrative approach to negotiation. The primary assumptions of the integrative approach are the following:

  • Some common interests exist between parties;
  • Negotiation is benefited by a full discussion of each participant's perspective and interests; and
  • We live in an integrated and complex world and our problems can be best resolved through application of our best intelligence and creativity.

Risks of the Integrative Approach

Risks of the integrative approach are based upon the common sense observation that "it takes two to collaborate." If one party is unwilling to participate in integrative, problem solving negotiation, the more collaborative negotiator may be at risk in the following ways:

  • The negotiator will be forced to either "give in" or adopt a competitive stance;
  • The negotiator may experience a failure if they do not reach agreement; and
  • The negotiator is somewhat at risk in honestly disclosing information if that is not reciprocated.

Principled Negotiation

In their book, Getting to Yes, Fisher and Ury set forth their concept of "Principled Negotiation." Here is a brief summary of the main points of principled negotiation:

Separate the People from the Problem

Fisher and Ury suggest that we are all people first -- that there are always substantive and relational issues in negotiation and mediation. The authors describe means of dealing with relational issues, including considering each party's perception (for example by reversing roles); seeking to make negotiation proposals consistent with the other party's interests; making emotions explicit and legitimate; and through active listening.

Focus on Interests, Not Positions

Positions may be thought of as one dimensional points in a space of infinite possible solutions. Positions are symbolic representations of a participant's underlying interests. To find out interests, you may ask questions like: "What is motivating you here?" "What are you trying to satisfy" or "What would you like to accomplish?" You may also ask: "If you had what you are asking for (your position), what would that experientially get you - what interests would that satisfy?"

In negotiation, there are multiple, shared, compatible, and conflicting interests. Identifying shared and compatible interests as "common ground" or "points of agreement" is helpful in establishing a foundation for additional negotiation discussions. Principles can often be extrapolated from "points of agreement" to resolve other issues. Also note that focusing on interests tends to direct the discussion to the present and future, and away from the difficulties of the past. If we have learned anything about the past, it is that "we can not change it." The past may help us to identify problems needing solution, but, other than that, it does not tend to yield the best solutions for the future.

Invent Options for Mutual Gain

Before seeking to reach agreement on solutions for the future, Fisher and Ury suggest that multiple solution options be developed prior to evaluation of those options. The typical way of doing this is called brainstorming. In brainstorming, the parties, with or without the mediator's participation, generate many possible solution before deciding which of those best fulfill the parties' joint interests. In developing options, parties look for mutual gains.

Select from Among Options by Using Objective Criteria

Using objective criteria (standards independent of the will of any party) is where the label "principled negotiation" comes from. Fisher and Ury suggest that solution selection be done according to concepts, standards or principles that the parties believe in and are not under the control of any single party. Fisher and Ury recommend that selections be based upon such objective criteria as precedent, tradition, a course of dealing, outside recommendations, or the flip of a coin.

What if They are More Powerful? - Developing a BATNA

In the event that the other party has some negotiating advantage, Fisher and Ury suggest that the answer is to improve the quality of your "best alternative to a negotiated agreement" (your BATNA). For example, if you are negotiating for a job and want to make a case for a higher wage, you improve your negotiating power by having another job offer available, or at least as a possibility.

What if They Won't Play or Use Dirty Tricks?

Fisher and Ury's answer to the resistant competitive negotiator is to "insist" on principled negotiation in a way that is most acceptable to the competitor. The principled negotiator might ask about the competitor's concerns, show he or she understands these concerns, and, in return, ask the competitor to recognize all concerns. Following the exploration of all interests, Fisher and Ury suggest inducing the competitive negotiator to brainstorm options and to think in terms of objective criteria for decision-making. Another way of thinking about encouraging principled or integrative bargaining is to think in terms of matching, pacing, leading and modeling. To get a negotiator to shift orientations, it is critical that they first experience themselves as fully heard in terms of content, intensity and emotion. By so matching and pacing with a negotiator (asking a few clarifying questions), the negotiator will become more open to your lead and modeling of productive means of negotiating. Negotiation Power

Negotiation power

can be defined as "the ability of the negotiator to influence the behavior of another. Commentators have observed a variety of aspects and qualities of negotiation power. It is important for the mediator to take note of these various aspects and qualities of negotiating power as a means of assisting each negotiating party to be at his or her best in representing his or her interests in mediation. Here are a number of aspects and qualities of negotiating power that have been identified:

  • Negotiating power is relative between the parties;
  • Negotiating power changes over time;
  • Negotiating power is always limited;
  • Negotiating power can be either real or apparent;
  • The exercise of negotiation power has both benefits and costs;
  • Negotiating power relates to the ability to punish or benefit;
  • Negotiating power is enhanced by legal support, personal knowledge, skill, resources and hard work;
  • Negotiating power is increased by the ability to endure uncertainty and by commitment;
  • Negotiating power is enhanced by a good negotiating relationship;
  • Negotiating power depends on the perceived BATNA; and
  • Negotiating power exists to the extent that it is accepted

Overall Problem-Solving Negotiation Structure

As an overall model for effective problem-solving negotiation, please consider the following:

  • Informed Consent as to Process (the process is always negotiable)
  • Sharing Perspectives (separate relational issues from substantive issues. Discuss both, just separately.)
  • Remember the Common Ground (common interests, interdependence and easy points of agreement)
  • Establish a Problem-Solving Agenda (questions seeking solutions: "How can we best . . .?" or "What is the best way for us to . . .?")
  • Identify Desired Information and Documentation Clarify Desired Outcomes, Interests and Positive Intentions Develop Options (develop options based upon outcomes, interests and positive intentions)
  • Select from Options (Easy agreements and package deals)
  • Integration and Finalization (Any possible improvement? What else needs to be done?)
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Q: What is Online Negotiation?

A: When we have been harmed or when things have not gone as planned, there is commonly frustration, anger and despair. Few of us enjoy negotiations under these circumstances. Most would prefer to avoid the situation or have someone else handle it. But now there are online opportunities to work these situations out economically, swiftly and in comfort and safety. and have teamed together to offer online negotiators state of the art Resolution Room technology that is now available at

Agreements are negotiated through the Internet everyday, some worth millions of dollars, others effecting important relationships. E-mail, web discussions, and soon audio and video communications offer undeniable convenience and economy. The Internet reduces friction in commerce and negotiations. People agree on exchanges and reach agreements for the future. The whole purpose of the Resolution Room is to assist people to be at their best in these exchanges and reaching agreements.

The Resolution Room offers a number of facilitative tools that can improve any negotiation. The tools include problem-solving agenda development, thoughtful joint and caucus discussion opportunities, structure, solution development, voting and consensus determination. Each participant has, among other things, an opportunity to share their perspective and to get what they want to say "off of their chest." Participants are assisted to develop capable "problem solving statements." Following the identification of a problem-solving agenda, each participant has the opportunity to share their interests, desired outcomes and proposals. Proposals can be edited and responded to at any time. You are also assisted to keep track of your points of agreement. If you would like to further consider Online Resolution's Resolution Room technology for online negotiation, please contact at