We all negotiate every day. We negotiate with our parents, children, spouses, friends and countless others. Everyone negotiates – some more effectively than others. Negotiating is a skill. The better you are at it, the more successful you will be.
Most negotiations take the form of positional bargaining. In positional bargaining, the people representing each party state their respective positions on a given issue. The parties then go back and forth to bargain from their respective positions in an attempt to agree on one position. Haggling over the price of an item (a car, a house, or a salary) is a typical example of positional bargaining.
Roger Fisher and William Ury coauthored Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In. In it, Fisher and Ury argue that what they call “principled negotiation” leads to better, more rationally based, fair and enduring agreements.
Fisher and Ury identify four principles of principled negotiation. The four principles are 1) separate the people from the problem, 2) focus on interests rather than positions, 3) generate a variety of options before settling on an agreement, and 4) insist that the agreement be based on objective criteria.
Because most conflicts are based on differing interpretations of the facts, it is crucial for both sides to understand the other’s point of view. The parties should try to put themselves in the other side’s (the other person’s) place.
Emotions are a major source of problems in negotiations. The first step in dealing with emotions is to acknowledge them. Try to understand where your emotions are coming from and why you feel the way you do. Allow the people on the other side to express their emotions. In fact, encourage them to do so.
Listen attentively. Give the speaker your full attention, occasionally summarizing the speaker’s points to let him/her know you understand.
Apologies or an expression of sympathy can be one of the most powerful and cost-effective means of moving an emotionally charged negotiation forward.
Think of the other side as your partners in the negotiation rather than as adversaries. Work on improving your relationship with them and separate the human relationship and emotional issues from the substantive issues of the negotiation.
Focus on Interests. Good agreements focus on each party’s interests, rather than on their positions. As Fisher and Ury explain, “Your position is something you have decided upon. Your interests are what caused you to so decide.”
For example, you may want to send your child to college, but you can’t afford it. So you go to your employer and ask for a raise.
Your underlying “interest” is that you need to be able to help your child pay college tuition. Your “position” is that you need a raise to be able to do that.
By disclosing your underlying interest to your employer, you may learn that your employer has a scholarship program that can be used to reduce your child’s tuition costs. A raise may not be the only answer or even the best answer. But you might never even consider other and possibly better options, unless you approach the problem by examining and considering solutions that satisfy your underlying “interests”.
When a problem is defined in terms of each party’s underlying interests, it is often possible to find a solution that satisfies everyone’s interests.
Parties often decide prematurely on an option to satisfy their needs and fail to consider alternative options. Parties also normally feel that it is up to the other side to come up with a solution that satisfies their own needs. These are common mistakes.
The parties should consider all possible options and solutions that may satisfy their respective interests. Brainstorming sessions should be used to generate options. Wild and creative proposals should be encouraged during these sessions. Only after a variety of proposals have been made should the group turn to evaluating the ideas.
The parties should consider shared interests. Fisher and Ury urge, “Look for items that are of low cost to you and high benefit to them and vice versa.”
By focusing on interests, rather than positions, the parties are more likely to reach an agreement and arrive at a win/win solution.
Identify the decision makers and target proposals directly toward them. Be creative. Don’t just rely on the other side to come up with creative options that satisfy their own interests. You need to come up with creative options that may satisfy their interests as well as your own – options that they may not have considered.
The parties should use objective criteria to resolve their differences. Decisions based on reasonable, objective standards make it much easier for the parties to agree. Criteria should be both legitimate and reasonable. Scientific findings, professional standards, or legal precedents are all possible sources of objective criteria.
If you’re the weaker party in a negotiation, you should concentrate on assessing your “best alternative to a negotiated agreement” (BATNA). Authors Fisher and Ury note,“ The reason you negotiate is to produce something better than the results you can obtain without negotiating.” The weaker party should reject agreements that would leave it worse off than its BATNA.
By separating the people from the problem, by focusing on interests rather than positions, by generating options and by insisting that agreements be based on objective criteria, you can negotiate better, more enduring agreements. By understanding your BATNA, you can make sure that agreements are in your best interests.
Fisher, Roger, and William L. Ury; Bruce Patton, Ed. 1981.
Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In.
London and New York: Penguin Books/Random.