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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.

Converting Positions to Interests to Positive Intentions

Negotiating parties tend to come to negotiation with well-rehearsed positional statements about the truth of the situation. As wise negotiators, we know that we want to assist all parties to get below their positions to achieve a full understanding of their respective interests. If you view negotiating parties as, essentially, survivors, wanting to improve their situations, you may be able to assist negotiating parties to recognize that even the most difficult interests, like revenge and anger, can be understood in terms of positive intentions, such as a desire for acknowledgment and respect. So reframed, the mediation effort can become a joint search for mutually acceptable solutions to the parties identified positive intentions. This reframing of the entire mediation effort can dramatically shift the entire atmosphere of your negotiation.

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