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Negotiation is the process of interpersonal communication in which interested parties resolve disputes, agree upon courses of action, bargain for individual or collective advantage, and/or attempt to craft outcomes which serve their mutual interests. It is usually regarded as a form of alternative dispute resolution. The first step in negotiation is to determine whether the situation is in fact a negotiation. The essential qualities of negotiation are: the existence of two parties who share an important objective but have some significant difference(s). The purpose of the negotiating conference to seek to compromise the difference(s). The outcome of the negotiating conference may be a compromise satisfactory to both sides, a standoff (failure to reach a satisfactory compromise) or a standoff with an agreement to try again at a later time. Negotiation differs from "influencing" and "group decision making." See diagram.

Approaches to negotiation

Given the above definition, one can see negotiation occurring in business, non-profit organizations, government branches, legal proceedings, among nations and in personal situations such as marriage, parenting and others. See also negotiation theory.

The advocate's approach

In the advocacy approach, a skilled negotiator usually serves as advocate for one party to the negotiation and attempts to obtain the most favorable outcomes possible for that party. In this process the negotiator attempts to determine the minimum outcome(s) the other party is (or parties are) willing to accept, then adjusts their demands accordingly. A "successful" negotiation in the advocacy approach is when the negotiator is able to obtain all or most of the outcomes their party desires, but without driving the other party to permanently break off negotiations, unless the BATNA (see below) is acceptable.

Traditional negotiating is sometimes called win-lose because of the assumption of a fixed "pie", that one person's gain results in another person's loss. Another view is that in negotiation both parties are equals by definition and that the best possible outcome is reached when both parties agree to it. If the two parties were not equals, the stronger party would dictate the outcome and there would be no negotiation at all.

The win/win negotiator's approach

During the early part of the 20th century, scholars such as Mary Parker Follett developed ideas suggesting that agreement often can be reached if parties look not at their stated positions but rather at their underlying needs. During the 1960s, Gerard I. Nierenberg recognized the powerful role of negotiation in resolving disputes in personal, business and international relations. He published a bestselling book called The Art of Negotiation, which has become a staple negotiation publication. He believes that the philosophies of the negotiators determine the direction a negotiation takes. His Everybody Wins philosophy assures that all parties benefit from the negotiation process which also yields more successful outcomes than the adversarial “winner takes all” approach.

In the Seventies, practitioners and researchers began to develop win-win approaches to negotiation. The publication of Getting to YES by Harvard's Roger Fisher and William Ury, was a revolution in the field of negotiation. It became an international bestseller and continues to influence generations of negotiators around the world. The ideas of the book are simple and important -- such as "looking behind positions for interests" and "inventing options before deciding." The book's approach, referred to as Principled Negotiation, is also sometimes called mutual gains bargaining. The mutual gains approach has been effectively applied in environmental situations (see Lawrence Susskind and Adil Najam) as well as labor relations where the parties (e.g. management and a labor union) frame the negotiation as "problem solving" and Chester L. Karrass.

There are a tremendous number of other scholars who have contributed to the field of negotiation, including Sara Cobb at George Mason University, Len Riskin at the University of Missouri, Howard Raiffa at Harvard, Robert McKersie and Lawrence Susskind at MIT, and Adil Najam and Jeswald Salacuse at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. Each in their own right is a leader in the field.

New terrains: the role of emotions

According to negotiation scholars Michael Moffitt and Robert Bordone (in their Handbook of Dispute Resolution), the newest frontiers in the field of negotiation include such topics as exploring the role of emotions in negotiation. Indeed, the Harvard Negotiation Project's Roger Fisher and Daniel Shapiro published the groundbreaking bestseller "Beyond Reason: Using Emotions as You Negotiate," a follow-up to Getting to YES. Beyond Reason suggests that negotiations need not be at the mercy of emotions; it discusses five "core concerns" that anyone can use to stimulate helpful emotions.

Negotiation as a process

A negotiation process can be divided into six steps in three phases:

  • Phase 1: Before the Negotiation
    • Step 1: Preparing and Planning: In this step, first you should determine what you must have and what you are willing to give (bargaining chips). Gather facts about the other party, learn about the other party’s negotiating style and anticipate other side's position and prioritize issues. To ensure smooth negotiation, one should also prepare alternatives proposals and establish BATNA (the Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement). Estimate the other party's needs, bargaining chips and BATNA. The most ideal case is to get as much as you can. You may advocate "win-win" but don't count on your opponent to be so helpful. Your opponent may try to intimidate you by creating time limits, shouting and casting doubt on your motives. For more details and suggestions on the process of negotiating, consult Negotiation/Conflict Resolution.
  • Phase 2: During the Negotiation
    • Step 2: Setting the Tone: You should never speak first because the other party might offer you more than you would have asked for.
    • Step 3: Exploring Underlying Needs: It is also important to actively listen for facts and reasons behind other party’s position and explore underlying needs of the other party. If conflict exists, try to develop creative alternatives. If you are in a difficult situation, don't say anything. Take time out. Remember, you will not give anything away if you don't say anything.
    • Step 4: Selecting, Refining, and Crafting an Agreement: It is a step in which both parties present the starting proposal. They should listen for new ideas, think creatively to handle conflict and gain power and create cooperative environment.
    • Step 5: Reviewing and Recapping the Agreement: This is the step in which both parties formalize agreement in a written contract or letter of intent.
  • Phase 3: After the Negotiation
    • Step 6: Reviewing the Negotiation: Reviewing the negotiation helps one to learn the lessons on how to achieve a better outcome. Therefore, one should take the time to review each element and ask oneself, "what went well?" and "what could be improved next time


There are many tactics used by skilled negotiators, including:

  • Setting pre-conditions before the meeting
  • Volunteering to keep the minutes of the meeting
  • Presenting demands
  • Declining to speak first
  • Deadlines
  • Good guy/bad guy
  • Limited authority
  • Caucusing
  • Walking out
  • Concession patterns
  • High-ball/low-ball
  • Intimidation
  • Getting it in your hands
  • Fait accompli (what's done is done)
  • Take it or leave it
  • Rejecting an offer
  • Change the location of the meeting at the last minute

See also


Further reading

  • Roger Fisher and Daniel Shapiro, "Beyond Reason: Using Emotions as You Negotiate," Viking, 2005.
  • Catherine Morris, ed. Negotiation in Conflict Transformation and Peacebuilding: A Selected Bibliography. Victoria, Canada: Peacemakers Trust.
  • Howard Raiffa, The Art and Science of Negotiation, Belknap Press 1982, ISBN 0674048121
  • William Ury, Getting Past No: Negotiating Your Way from Confrontation to Cooperation, revised second edition, Bantam, January 1, 1993, trade paperback, ISBN 0553371312; 1st edition under the title, Getting Past No: Negotiating with Difficult People, Bantam, September, 1991, hardcover, 161 pages, ISBN 0553072749
  • William Ury, Roger Fisher and Bruce Patton, Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving in, Revised 2nd edition, Penguin USA, 1991, trade paperback, ISBN 0140157352; Houghton Mifflin, April, 1992, hardcover, 200 pages, ISBN 0395631246. The first edition, unrevised, Houghton Mifflin, 1981, hardcover, ISBN 0395317576
  • Gerard I. Nierenberg, The Art of Negotiating: Psychological Strategies for Gaining Advantageous Bargains, Barnes and Noble, (1995), hardcover, 195 pages, ISBN 156619816X
  • The political philosopher Charles Blattberg has advanced a distinction between negotiation and conversation and criticized those methods of conflict-resolution which give too much weight to the former. See his From Pluralist to Patriotic Politics: Putting Practice First, Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2000, ISBN 0-19-829688-6, a work of political philosophy; and his Shall We Dance? A Patriotic Politics for Canada, Montreal and Kingston: McGill Queen's University Press, 2003, ISBN 0-7735-2596-3, which applies that philosophy to the Canadian case.
  • Leigh L. Thompson, The Mind and Heart of the Negotiator, Prentice Hall 0ct.2000, ISBN 0130179647

External links

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