Principled Negotiation

Wed, Dec 10, 2008


“Take it or leave it!” “This proposal is non-negotiable.” “Don’t ask me to go back to my client on this. This is all we are going to do.” “This is it. If you don’t want to accept it at that price, forget it.” “Negotiating with you is a waste of time. We’ll see you at the courthouse!”

How do you feel when you hear statements like this? How do you feel when people are adamant; when they hang up on you; when they let you know that they do not want to have a dialogue with you?

Negotiation is a basic means of getting what you want from others. When people find themselves in a dilemma, they see two ways to negotiate: soft/passive or hard/aggressive. The soft or passive negotiator wants to avoid personal conflict and so makes concessions readily in order to reach an agreement. The hard or aggressive negotiator sees any situation as a contest of wills in which the side that takes the more extreme positions and holds out longer fares better.

However there is a third way to negotiate, a way neither hard/aggressive nor soft/passive, but rather both hard and soft or assertive. The method of principled negotiation is to decide issues on their merits rather than through a haggling process focused on what each side says it will and won’t do. It suggests that you look for Win-Win wherever possible, and that where your interests conflict, you should insist that the result be based on some fair standards independent of the will of either side.

Positional Bargaining

Have you held your position to bargain the price of the antique piece that caught your fancy? How often were you successful in such bargaining situations? Maybe not 100% successful. People often bargain often bargain using positions. Each side takes a position, argues for it, and makes concessions to reach a compromise. When people bargain over positions, they tend to lock themselves into those positions. The more you try to convince the other side of the impossibility of changing your opening position, the more difficult it becomes to do so. As more attention is paid to positions, less attention is devoted to meeting the underlying concerns of the parties. Consider the following conversation between a customer and a shopkeeper.

The price tussle

Customer: How much do you want for this painting?
Shopkeeper: That is a beautiful painting, isn’t it? I could let it go for $280.
Customer: Oh come on, the frame has a crack. I will give you $50.
Shopkeeper: Really! I might consider a serious offer, but $50 certainly isn’t serious.

Customer: Well, I could go to $70, but I would never pay anything like $75. Quote me a realistic price.
Shopkeeper: You drive a hard bargain, young lady. $250 cash, right now.
Customer: $75
Shopkeeper: It cost me a great deal more than that. Make me a serious offer.
Customer: $90. That’s the highest I will go.
Shopkeeper: Have you noticed the carving on the frame? Next year pieces like that will be twice what you pay today.

And so it goes, on and on. Perhaps they will reach an agreement; perhaps not.

Taking positions, as the customer and the shopkeeper do, suggests what is acceptable to either side. But it fails to produce a wise agreement, efficiently & amicably.

Principled Negotiation

An alternative to positional bargaining is principled negotiation. This involves four points that can be used under almost all circumstances: COPI.

  • Criteria: Insist that the result should be based on some objective standard
  • Options: Generate a wide variety of possibilities before deciding what to do
  • People: Separate the people from the problem
  • Interests: Focus on interests, not positions

Criteria: Insist that the result should be based on some objective standard

No negotiation is likely to be efficient or amicable if you pit your will against theirs, and either you have to back down or they do. The solution is to negotiate on some basis independent of the will of either side ‘“ that is, on the basis of objective criteria. Consider the following conversation between a Hiring Manager and a Candidate. The Candidate successfully passed his interview for a Manager’s position. But the compensation for the job is below the Candidates’ expectations.

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

In a dispute, people usually believe that they know the right answer ‘“ their view should prevail. In a complex situation, creative inventing is an absolute necessity. In any negotiation it may open doors and produce a range of potential agreements satisfactory to each side. Therefore, generate many options before selecting among them. Invent first; decide later.

Defective Parts: The leader of Vendors Association of equipment parts is meeting with the management of a Machine Tools company to brainstorm on ways to improve the quality of parts supplied. Ten people ‘“ five from each side ‘“ are present, sitting around a table facing a blackboard. A neutral facilitator asks the participants for their ideas, and writes them down on the blackboard.

Hard/Aggressive Principled/Assertive
Management: We will stop business with the supplier if it does not implement Six Sigma in one year.

Leader: That’s quite impossible. We will certainly try to improve the quality of parts but Six Sigma implementation cannot be done in a year’s time. It will take us at least 5 years.

Management: Well that’s the norm today. Competition demands that we have a system for correcting error and Six Sigma is the answer.

Leader: Your solution does not fit into our organization. I don’t think we are ready for it.

The argument goes on with out an agreement.

Facilitator: Let’s see what ideas you have for dealing with the problem of quality. Let’s try to get ten ideas on the blackboard in five minutes.

Tom (association): The company should share the cost of implementing Six Sigma in the supplier facility.

Jim (Management): The supplier should sign an agreement for completing the Six Sigma implementation ASAP.

Tom (association): ‘Unless ASAP is not six months!!’

Facilitator: Tom, please, no criticizing yet. We agreed to postpone that until later, Ok? How about you, Jerry? You look like you have got an idea.

Jerry (association): How about creating milestones on the Six Sigma implementation on a monthly basis?

Roger (management): Management could agree to appoint a trainer for each supplier.

Jerry (association): How about speeding up the implementation procedure by tying in incentives?

Karen (association): Yeah. And how about organizing some forums for the suppliers to gain access to information?

And on it goes, as the participants brainstorm lots of ideas.

Whether you brainstorm together or not, separating the act of developing options from the act of deciding on them is extremely useful in any negotiation.

People: Separate the people from the problem

Everyone knows how hard it is to deal with a problem without people misunderstanding each other, getting angry or upset, and taking things personally. Dealing with a substantive problem and maintaining a good working relationship need not be conflicting goals if the parties treat the problem and people separately.

Example: Generator repair

Hard/Aggressive Principled/Assertive
‘Your company is turning out to be a pain. Every time you service our elevator here at the factory, you do a lousy job and it breaks down again.’ ‘Our elevator has stopped working. That is three times in the last month. The first time it was out of order for an entire week. This building needs a functioning elevator. I want your advice on how we can minimize our risk of elevator breakdown. Should we change service companies, sue the manufacturer, or what?’

Blaming is an easy when you feel that the other side is indeed responsible. Under attack, the other side will become defensive and will resist what you have to say. They will cease to listen, or they will strike back with an attack of their own. So, attack the problem; treat the problem separate from the person.

Interests: Focus on interests, not positions

Consider the following conflict of needs, desires, concerns, and fears:

1. ‘I am trying to get him to give up the apartment.’

Or ‘We disagree. He wants $500 more as house rent. I won’t pay a penny more than $100.’

2. ‘He needs the cash; I want peace and quiet.’

Or ‘He needs at least $500 to settle his auto insurance. I told my family I wouldn’t pay more than $100 for a house.’

Such desires and concerns are interests. Interests motivate people; they drive the options. You decide something based on your position. Your interests drive you to decide.

Example: Library window

Hard/Aggressive Principled/Assertive
Man: ‘I want the window open.’

Woman: ‘I want it closed.’

They may not get what they both want if they continue to argument based on their positions.

Man: ‘I want the window open.’

Woman: ‘I want it closed.’

Librarian (to man): ‘Why do you want to open the window?’

Man: ‘To get some fresh air.’

Librarian (to woman): ‘Why do want the window closed?’

Woman: ‘To avoid the draft.’

Librarian opens wide a window in the next room, bringing in fresh air without a draft.

Underlying interests: fresh air & no draft

The librarian could not have invented the solution she did if she had focused only on the two people’s stated positions of wanting the window open or closed. Instead she looked to their underlying interests of fresh air and no draft.

Assertive Versus Passive and Aggressive Behavior

Many people are concerned that if they assert themselves others will think of their behavior as aggressive. But there is a difference between being assertive and aggressive.

Assertive people state their opinions, while still being respectful of others. Aggressive people attack or ignore others’ opinions in favor of their own. Passive people don’t state their opinions at all. In other words,

  • Passive Behavior is the act of withdrawing from a situation
  • Aggressive Behavior is the act of over reacting emotionally to a situation
  • Assertive Behavior is the act of declaring that this is what I am, what I think and feel, and what I wantPassive Characteristics

Goal Posture Tone Expression Language
– Avoid conflict

– Isolate self from groups

– Slouch and withdraw

– Fidgeting, uncomfortable

– Soft-spoken

– Apologetic

– Placating

– Blank

– negative

– ‘OK’

– ‘Oh, it’s nothing’

‘oh, yeah’¦ you are right’¦’


Aggressive Characteristics

Goal Posture Tone Expression Language
– Win at all costs!

– Choose for others

– self-expression ‘

– Stand rigidly

– finger pointing

– invade others’ personal space

– Sarcastic

– Accusatory

– Intimidating

– bang the table

– raise arms

– raise brows

– ‘I don’t care’¦’

– ‘you are always’¦’

– ‘That’s ridiculous!’


Assertive Characteristics

Goal Posture Tone Expression Language
– Compromise

– Choose for self

– self-expression

– relaxed

– even position

– Calm

– encouraging

– welcoming

– smile

– composed

– positive

– ‘if it suits everyone’¦’

– ‘I feel’¦’

‘I also think’¦.’


Assertive expression of feelings

An assertive person speaks in a firm tone.

The person makes “I” statements. By making “I” statements, the person is taking responsibility for his or her own feelings. Instead of saying “You make me so angry,” say “I am upset.” It is important to label how you feel with “I” instead of “you.” This allows a person to express feelings without placing blame on the other person. Some more examples include: “I feel upset. I am really sad. I am frustrated, confused, and angry.”

An assertive person states why he or she feels the way he or she does and how he or she would like the situation to be changed. An assertive person is not going to force another person to change. Rather, he or she will make a request that expresses his or her point of view but realizes that he or she cannot control another person’s behavior.

People who are assertive listen to what the other person has to say. They restate their feelings in an assertive manner if the other person does not appear to understand their point of view.

If the person is not responding appropriately, you feel yourself not able to keep your emotions under control, or the situation is not getting resolved, an assertive person politely excuses himself or herself from the situation.

The person feels better and the relationship stays intact because he or she considered the other persons’ feelings.

Passive expression of feelings

A passive person speaks in a quiet voice or does not speak at all.

A passive person makes indirect comments in hopes that the other person gets the hint about how he or she is feeling. For example, your boss tells you to work overtime when you have to go to your child’s teacher conference and you say OK. As the boss is leaving, you say something in a quiet tone of voice such as “I sure hope my child does not get in trouble because I can’t make it to his conference.” This person did not express his feelings about the situation or explain why he felt the way he did. The employee is hoping the boss might get the message with the passive statement.

The person bottles up feelings. He does not express feelings at all.

The person does not confront a person directly because he or she does not like conflict. He or she says things behind the person’s back and expresses feelings but nothing gets resolved because he or she does not confront the person.

You try to express your feelings, but the other person is aggressive and does not validate your feelings. You get uncomfortable, so you apologize and take back what you said to avoid a conflict. Wishy-washy!

The person does not feel better because nothing is resolved, and the other person has no idea that anything is wrong. Thus, the other person may continue to engage in a behavior that is highly aggravating for the passive person.

Aggressive expression of feelings

An aggressive person yells or screams to get his or her point across.

The person uses abusive, disrespectful language when addressing the other person.

The person does not let the other person talk. He or she dominates the conversation.

In extreme cases the person becomes physically threatening or abusive.

The person does hurtful things to make himself or herself feel better rather than express feelings assertively.

The person feels better in the short run because he or she has “let the other person have it.” But, the other person is hurt, the relationship is damaged, and the aggressive person probably does not have an overall good feeling about the way he or she has handled the situation.


Getting to Yes By Roger Fisher & William Ury [1]

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