Negotiation in Action

Continued from: What is Negotiation?

Negotiation is a means of resolving differences between people.  In the process of negotiation, not only are different opinions taken into account, but also individual needs, aims, interests and differences in background and culture.

This page looks at different ways we may negotiate including the 'Win-Lose' approach, also known as bargaining or haggling, and the 'Win-Win' approach to negotiation, which is preferable when you want to build a meaningful and strong interpersonal relationship.

The Win-Lose Approach to Negotiation

Negotiation is sometimes seen in terms of ‘getting your own way’, ‘driving a hard bargain’ or ‘beating off the opposition’.  While in the short term bargaining may well achieve the aims for one side, it is also a Win-Lose approach.

This means that while one side wins the other loses and this outcome may well damage future relationships between the parties. It also increases the likelihood of relationships breaking down, of people walking out or refusing to deal with the ‘winners’ again and the process ending in a bitter dispute.

Win-Lose bargaining is probably the most familiar form of negotiating that is undertaken.  Individuals decide what they want, then each side takes up an extreme position, such as asking the other side for much more than they expect to get.

Through haggling – the giving and making of concessions – a compromise is reached, and each side’s hope is that this compromise will be in their favour.

A typical example is haggling over the price of a car:

“What do you want for it?”
“I couldn’t let it go for under £2,000.”
“I’ll give you £1,000.”
“You must be joking.”
“Well, £1,100 and that’s my limit.”
£1,900” … “£1,300” … “£1,700” ... “£1,500” … “Done!”

Both parties need good assertiveness skills to be able to barter or haggle effectively.

While this form of bargaining may be acceptable in the used car market, and even expected in some cultures, for most situations it has drawbacks. These drawbacks can have serious consequences if applied to social situations.

For example, win-lose negotiation:

  • May serve to turn the negotiation into a conflict situation, and can serve to damage any possible long-term relationship.

  • Is essentially dishonest – both sides try to hide their real views and mislead the other.

  • Reaches a compromise solution which may not have be the best possible outcome – there may have been some other agreement that was not thought of at the time - an outcome that was both possible and would have better served both parties.

  • Agreement is less likely to be reached as each side has made a public commitment to a particular position and feels they must defend it, even though they know it to be an extreme position originally.

While there are times when bargaining is an appropriate means of reaching an agreement, such as when buying a used car, generally a more sensitive approach is preferable. 

Negotiation concerning other people’s lives is perhaps best dealt with by using an approach which takes into account the effect of the outcome on thoughts, emotions and subsequent relationships. You may find our page on emotional intelligence helpful.

The Win-Win Approach to Negotiation

Many professional negotiators prefer to aim towards what is known as a Win-Win solution. This involves looking for resolutions that allow both sides to gain.

In other words, negotiators aim to work together towards finding a solution to their differences that results in both sides being satisfied.

Key points when aiming for a Win-Win outcome include:

  • Focus on maintaining the relationship - ‘separate the people from the problem’.
  • Focus on interests not positions.
  • Generate a variety of options that offer gains to both parties before deciding what to do.
  • Aim for the result to be based on an objective standard.

Focus on Maintaining the Relationship

This means not allowing the disagreement to damage the interpersonal relationship, not blaming the others for the problem and aiming to confront the problem not the people. This can involve actively supporting the other individuals while confronting the problem.


Separate the people from the problem

Disagreements and negotiations are rarely ‘one-offs’.  At times of disagreement, it is important to remember that you may well have to communicate with the same people in the future.  For this reason, it is always worth considering whether ‘winning’ the particular issue is more important than maintaining a good relationship.

All too often disagreement is treated as a personal affront.  Rejecting what an individual says or does is seen as rejection of the person. Because of this, many attempts to resolve differences degenerate into personal battles or power struggles with those involved getting angry, hurt or upset.

Remember negotiation is about finding an agreeable solution to a problem, not an excuse to undermine others, therefore, to avoid negotiation breaking down into argument, it is helpful to consciously separate the issues under dispute from the people involved.  For example, it is quite possible to hold people in deep regard, to like them, to respect their worth, their feelings, values and beliefs, and yet to disagree with the particular point they are making. One valuable approach is to continue to express positive regard for an individual, even when disagreeing with what he/she is saying.

The following are examples of statements that might be used by a good negotiator:

You’ve expressed your points very clearly and I can now appreciate your position. However...

It’s clear that you are very concerned about this issue, as I am myself. Yet from my viewpoint...

Another way of avoiding personal confrontation is to avoid blaming the other party for creating the problem. It is better to talk in terms of the impact the problem is having personally, or on the organisation or situation, rather than pointing out any errors.

Instead of saying:

“You’re making me waste a lot of time by carrying on with this argument,”

the same point could be presented as,

“I’m not able to spend a lot of time on this problem, I wonder if there’s any way we could solve it quickly?”

By not allowing ‘disagreements over issues’ to become ‘disagreements between people’, a good relationship can be maintained, regardless of the outcome of the negotiation.

See our pages Mediation Skills, Conflict Resolution and Justice and Fairness for more information.

Focus on Interests Not Positions

Rather than focusing on the other side’s stated position, consider the underlying interests they might have. What are their needs, desires and fears?  These might not always be obvious from what they say. When negotiating, individuals often appear to be holding on to one or two points from which they will not move.

For example, in a work situation an employee might say “I am not getting enough support” while the employer believes that the person is getting as much support as they can offer and more than others in the same position. However, the employee's underlying interest might be that he or she would like more friends or someone to talk to more often. By focusing on the interests rather than the positions, a solution might be that the employer refers the employee to a befriending organisation so that his or her needs can be met.

Focusing on interests is helpful because:

  • It takes into account individual needs, wants, worries and emotions.
  • There are often a number of ways of satisfying interests, whereas positions tend to focus on only one solution.
  • While positions are often opposed, individuals may still have common interests on which they can build.

Most people have an underlying need to feel good about themselves and will strongly resist any attempt at negotiation that might damage their self-esteem.

Often their need to maintain feelings of self-worth is more important than the particular point of disagreement.  Therefore, in many cases, the aim will be to find some way of enabling both sides to feel good about themselves, while at the same time not losing sight of the goals.

If individuals fear their self-esteem is at risk, or that others will think less highly of them following negotiation, they are likely to become stubborn and refuse to move from their stated position, or become hostile and offended and leave the discussion.

See our page: Improving Self-Esteem for more background.

Understanding the emotional needs of others is an essential part of understanding their overall perspective and underlying interests.  In addition to understanding others’ emotional needs, understanding of your own emotional needs are equally important.  It can be helpful to discuss how everyone involved feels during negotiation. Learn more about Emotional Intelligence.

Another key point is that decisions should not be forced upon others. This is a negotiation. Both sides will feel much more committed to a decision if they feel it is something they have helped to create and that their ideas and suggestions have been taken into account. 

It is important to clearly express your own needs, desires, wants and fears so that others can also focus on your interests.

See our pages on Assertiveness for more information.

Generate a Variety of Options that Offer Gains to Both Sides

Rather than looking for one single way to resolve differences, it is worthwhile considering a number of options that could provide a resolution and then to work together to decide which is most suitable for both sides.

Techniques such as brainstorming could be used to generate different potential solutions. In many ways, negotiation can be seen as a problem solving exercise, although it is important to focus on all individuals’ underlying interests and not merely the basic difference in positions.

Good negotiators will spend time finding a number of ways of meeting the interests of both sides rather than meeting self-interest alone and then discussing the possible solutions.

Our pages: Decision Making and Problem Solving can help here.

Aim for the Result to be Based on an Objective Standard

Having identified and worked towards meeting shared interests, it is often inevitable that some differences will remain.

Rather than resorting to a confrontational bargaining approach, which may leave individuals feeling let-down or angry, it can be helpful to seek some fair, objective and independent means of resolving the differences. It is important that such a basis for deciding is:

  • Acceptable to both parties.
  • Independent to both parties.
  • Can be seen to be fair.

If no resolution can be reached, it may be possible to find some other, independent party whom both sides will trust to make a fair decision.

Other sources of help who might assist in situations which cannot be resolved include:

  • A mutual friend or colleague
  • A committee member
  • A trained mediator

Before turning for help from such sources however it is important to agree that this approach is acceptable to both sides.

Conflict Resolution and Mediation

Further Reading from Skills You Need

Conflict Resolution and Mediation

Learn more about how to effectively resolve conflict and mediate personal relationships at home, at work and socially.

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