Four Ways to be a Principled Negotiator (Part 1 of 3)

Negotiation tactics are often thought of like secret weapons. You want to keep your counterpart guessing, never divulge your bottom line, possibly find ways to intimidate your counterpart, and use the element of surprise. Under this paradigm, the less your counterpart knows about the books you’ve read and the conditioning you’ve undergone to enter the negotiation, the better.

There is an alternative approach: “Principled negotiation is an all-purpose strategy. Unlike almost all other strategies, if the other side learns this one, it does not become more difficult to use; it becomes easier. If they read this book, all the better” (p. xix).

Does this sound intriguing?

The quote comes from Roger Fisher, William Ury, and Bruce Patton, authors of Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In (Penguin Books, 1991, 2nd ed.). They describe their approach as principled negotiation, distinguishing it from positional bargaining in which the negotiator uses either a hard or soft stance.

To understand the approach and distinctions better, consider two elements of a negotiation: the substantive issue and the process. Each assertion you bring to the table and your demeanor throughout the process reinforces rules (often unspoken) about the process you are undertaking. You can take a hard or soft stance in advocating for your position, or you can step back and propose — explicitly or even implicitly — a principled approach.

Rather than deciding beforehand what position to take in order to best serve your interests — and then advocating for this position more or less robustly or timidly — you can negotiate on the merits of the situation. The authors boil down this principled approach to four points (pp. 10-11):

  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 standard.”

The authors describe this approach as hard on the merits and issues but soft on the people and relationships.

The first step is to be sensitive and recognize the humanity of your counterpart. We don’t negotiate with machines or animals but with other humans who have real emotions, fears, values, beliefs, and elements of unpredictable behavior. We want to come through the negotiation having reached a wise agreement, as efficiently as possible, and with an ongoing relationship still intact. Rather than throwing around your weight by making personal attacks or appeasing your counterpart with substantive concessions, fundamentally deal with each issue on its merits. There will be no need for shouting, name-calling, or any other personal attacks; the hardness will be reserved for keeping the negotiation on a principled course.

A Key Gem to tuck away regarding the people aspect of negotiations: “The ability to see the situation as the other side sees it, as difficult as it may be, is one of the most important skills a negotiator can possess” (p. 23).

The second step is to be clear on the difference between interests and positions. The analogy that came to mind is a familiar marketing distinction between benefits and features. An average salesperson can talk all day about a product’s features. The remarkable salesperson can discern what benefits I’m looking for and show me exactly how the product will give me everything I need (and more). Rather than saying, “This has a nice touch screen,” the salesperson could say, “You can utilize the touchscreen to save time and spare yourself the frustration of pressing buttons and scrolling through menus.”

A negotiator who focuses on positions is like the salesperson who focuses on features. Instead, a negotiator does well to focus on underlying interests — i.e., the objectives to be achieved, which could be accomplished through a variety of means. A principled negotiator recognizes that features (positions) can vary as long as they provide ultimate benefits (i.e., preserve legitimate interests).

A Key Gem to tuck away regarding advocating for your interests in a negotiation: “It is your job to have the other side understand exactly how important and legitimate your interests are” (p. 50).

To Be Continued . . .

2 thoughts on “Four Ways to be a Principled Negotiator (Part 1 of 3)

  1. Pingback: Excuse Me, but Your Preparedness is Showing | My CFO Career Development Plan

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