Thomas A. Alspaugh

This material is largely drawn from the excellent book by Roger Fisher and William Ury.

Contrasting the two most common kinds of positional negotiating

Hard negotiating Soft negotiating
Style Adversarial Friendly
Goal Goal is victory Goal is agreement without confrontation
Iteration Each side demands repeated concessions from others as condition of continued negotiation (example: North Korea) Each side gives concessions to cultivate the relationship
Focus Each negotiator focuses on position (My lowest price is ) Each negotiator focuses on agreement
Tactic Pick extreme starting position, and then give as little as possible Give on position to get agreement
Assumption Assumes the best outcome is somewhere between the starting positions Assumes the best outcome doesn't necessarily meet your needs
Example haggling over price of brass dish [p3ff] "so, what so you want to do?"
Efficiency Takes forever to reach a conclusion
Grossly inefficient with more than two parties or more than one issue
Typically produces results relatively quickly
Tendency Encourages extreme positions and lying about what is important to you Encourages generosity and not holding out for what is important to you
Future relations Damages relations between parties Attempts to cultivate the relationship between parties
Effectiveness Neither of these is particularly effective:
— They don't explore the solution space
— They don't necessarily produce anything both parties want

Criteria for a good negotiation method

Soft and hard clearly don't work well by these criteria, especially together.

Needed: a negotiating method that works when applied against a variety of approaches. Principled negotiating is such a method.

Principled negotiating (negotiating on the merits)

The points in summary:

  1. People: Separate the people from the problem.
  2. Interests: Focus on interests, not positions.
  3. Options: Generate a variety of possibilities before deciding what to do.
  4. Criteria: Insist that the result be based on some objective criteria.

People: Separate the people from the problem

[Example: tenant, landlord p24]

People Do's and Don'ts
Don't use your fears to deduce their interests.
Do be hard with your interests; commit to them. (But you have to decide what your interests are).
Do state your view of the situation, firmly but not threateningly. "Correct me if I'm wrong, but …" about your view of the situation,
Don't blame them personally for the problem. Separate the people and what they can do from what is wrong (as far as possible),
Do involve them (all of "them") in finding solutions and in coming to something to agree on. Get them to participate in the process. That way they are much more likely to accept its results.
Do help them save face. Make your proposal consistent with their values as much as possible (so they will be able to reconcile the results with their values).
Do phrase potentially threatening assertions as questions. Asking a question is less threatening than making the equivalent assertion.
Do look forward, not back. The past is done; the future is where a solution lies. Don't dwell on the past.
Do remember that emotions are important.
Do pay attention to emotions, theirs and yours. Are you nervous? Angry? Is your stomach upset? What are they feeling? Why are you feeling these emotions? What do you want to be feeling instead (confident, relaxed)? How about them?
Do talk about emotions (unemotionally). "We are feeling [this way]."
Do separate emotions from the problem: "Personally I think we may be wrong in feeling this, but this is a feeling others on my side have. Do the people on your side feel this way also?"  (Note how this phrasing lets you say it unemotionally.)
Do allow them to let off steam. Listen while they complain. Perhaps encourage them to continue ("I see; go on.") until they have talked about it all. Then the emotion is less likely to get in the way.
Don't react emotionally to theirs. [Example: steel industry negotiations 1950's "only one person can be angry at a time".]
Do use symbolic gestures to defuse emotional trouble. [Examples: a rose to a lover, a statement of regret, shaking hands, eating together.] "An apology may be one of the least costly and most rewarding investments you can make."
Do communicate. Like we talked about for teams etc.
  1. Be sure you are talking.
  2. Be sure you are saying what you mean.
  3. Be sure they understand you.
  4. Be sure you are listening and understanding.
Do speak about yourself, not about them.
Don't speak when it doesn't help. Figure out what you are trying to communicate, or find out, and keep silent if saying that won't help. Lawyer's saying: "When you've won your case, shut up."
Don't make important decisions on the fly. Say you will get back to them.

Interests: Focus on interests, not positions

Interests Do's and Don'ts
Do make a list of interests of each side, add to it as you learn more.
Do talk about interests, yours and theirs
Do be specific and concrete (example of gravel truck [p52]).
Do state your interests firmly and seriously.
Do acknowledge their interests are part of the problem to be solved (active listening helps here).
Do state your view of the problem first, then afterwards your proposals.

Options: Generate a variety of possibilities before deciding what to do

Options Do's and Don'ts
Don't think in terms of a "fixed pie".
Don't think that solving their problem is … their problem.
Do broaden the options.
Do look for mutual gain. Identify shared interests.
Do think about how different interests dovetail. The difference may be what makes a solution possible. E.g. form/substance; economic/political; symbolic/practical; progress/tradition; precedent/this case; prestige/results. Different beliefs, times of interest, forecasts, risk-aversion.
Do look for what is preferable, not just acceptable. Propose several equally acceptable to you options and ask which is preferable (even if none are acceptable to them). Find out which way is most likely to be fruitful.
Do make their decision easy. Give them an answer, not just a problem.
Technique: write up a "yes-able" proposition (one they could reasonably and practically answer with just "yes").

Criteria: Insist that the result be based on some objective criteria

Quick reference list of useful phrases

  1. "Please correct me if I'm wrong."
  2. "We appreciate what you've done for us."
  3. "Our concern is fairness."  [or some other objective criterion]
  4. "We would like to settle this on the basis not of selfish interest and power but of principle."
  5. "Trust is a separate issue."
  6. "Could I ask a few questions to see whether my facts are right?"
  7. "What's the principle behind your action/statement/demand/…?"
  8. "Let me see if I understand what you're saying."
  9. "Let me get back to you."
  10. "Let me show you where I have trouble following some of your reasoning."
  11. "One fair solution might be …"
  12. "If we agree … if we disagree …"
  13. "We'd be happy to see if we can [do X in some manner so] it's most convenient for you."
  14. "It's been a pleasure dealing with you."

… What if it's a bad bad negotiation?


Negotiation jujitsu

"One text"

This requires a third party, usually, to be representative of the one text that takes the place of the two texts that the sides are elaborating.

Responding effectively to dirty tricks


Roger Fisher and William Ury. Getting to YES: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In. Penguin, 1981.

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