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What is negotiation?

“Negotiation is a basic means of getting what you want from others. It is back-and-forth communication designed to reach an agreement when you and the other side have some interests that are shared and others that are opposed (as well as some that may simply be different).”[1] Each of us negotiates everyday in our professional and personal lives. We can and should treat these everyday negotiations as practice for the bigger and more important negotiations we will unquestionably encounter.

What types of negotiators are there?

  1. Soft negotiators want to avoid personal conflict and make concessions readily to reach agreement. They want an amicable resolution, yet often end up exploited and feeling bitter.
  2. Hard negotiators see any situation as a contest of wills in which the side that takes the more extreme positions and holds out longer fares better. They want to win, yet often end up producing a response that exhausts the negotiator and their resources and harms the relationship with the other side.
  3. Principled negotiators decide issues on their merits. They look for mutual gains whenever possible, and where there are conflicting interests, they insist that the result should be based on some fair standards independent of the will of either side. Principled negotiators are “hard on the merits and soft on the people”.

When is principled negotiation appropriate?

Anyone can use principled negotiation in any circumstances. Unlike almost all other negotiation strategies, if the other side learns principled negotiation, it does not become more difficult to use; it becomes easier.

Four points define principled negotiation:

  1. People: Separate the people from the problem. Participants should come to see themselves as working side by side, attacking the problem (and not each other).
  2. Interests: Focus on interests, not positions. The object of a negotiation is to satisfy the parties’ underlying interests.
  3. Options: Invent multiple options looking for mutual gains before deciding what to do.
  4. Criteria: Insist that the result be based on some objective standard (for example, market value, expert opinion, custom, or law).

These four propositions are relevant from the very beginning of a negotiation until the very end, and they help negotiators efficiently reach a wise and amicable outcome.[5] Thinking about these propositions in advance will help you prepare for a successful negotiation.


Next time:

The next blog will address difficult conversations.

  1. [1] Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In by Roger Fisher and William Ury with Bruce Patton, 3rd ed., Penguin Books, 2011 (“Getting to Yes”) at page xxvii.
  2. [2] Ibid. at page xxviii.
  3. [3] Ibid. at pages xxviii-xxix.
  4. [4] Ibid. at pages 11-14.
  5. [5] Ibid. at pages 14 and 15.