Four Ways to be a Principled Negotiator (Part 2 of 3)

We previously saw that principled negotiation differs from positional bargaining by separating people from issues and by focusing on interests rather than positions.

The third step in principled negotiation is to be creative and invent various options that could satisfy the interests of both sides. As a very simple example, recently I had two projects to complete — painting the walls of a room and thoroughly cleaning a floor that would later be painted. My wife asked which one I planned to complete first, and I told her the cleaning. She knew I would likely use a vacuum, which could potentially wake up the baby. When she calmly mentioned this, I knew we both had an interest in letting our baby take her nap, and I quickly invented the solution of painting while the baby slept — leaving the floor cleaning for later.

Negotiators lack creativity when they exercise premature judgment, try to find a single answer, assume that the pie is fixed (so the bigger one person’s piece is, the smaller the other’s piece), and “thinking that ‘solving their problem is their problem'” (p. 57). Instead, step back and use your imagination, try to broaden options, make the pie bigger rather than focusing on a “fixed-sum” game, and appeal to both sides’ interests.

To generate options, brainstorming is often quite effective and the authors describe potential rules and methods to use in the process, such as the no-criticism rule that encourages building upon participants’ openness and creativity.

A Key Gem to tuck away regarding creatively inventing options: “In almost every case, your satisfaction depends to a degree on making the other side sufficiently content with an agreement to want to live up to it” (p. 72).

The fourth and final step is to emphasize objective criteria in the negotiation. Basing the outcome of a negotiation on who has the stronger will is often costly in terms of time and relationship strain, and it cannot be expected to lead to a wise agreement. In contrast, objective criteria which is independent from the will of the parties involved can enhance the efficiency of the negotiation, lead to a wise agreement, and preserve the ongoing relationship between the counterparts.

Rather than yielding to pressure and threats, a principled negotiator bargains based on principle and reason. The objective standard should be legitimate and practical. One might think of the example of a dispute between young children over how to split a piece of pie. The time-tested solution is simple: One cuts, the other chooses.

In advocating objective criteria, one must avoid the subtle pitfall of using criteria solely to bolster one’s own position. Be truly flexible and open to reason and principle, even if the objective criteria differs from the standard you had initially proposed or works against the position you had originally sought to advocate. Negotiating on objective criteria provides a position of power because right makes might.

A Key Gem to tuck away regarding the difference between standards in positional and principled negotiation: “In positional bargaining, negotiators spend much of the time defending their positions and attacking the other side’s. People using objective criteria tend to use time more efficiently talking about possible standards and solutions” (p. 83).

We have seen that principled negotiation rests on four key ideas:

  • Separate people from problems
  • Focus on interests rather than positions
  • Invent options for mutual gain
  • Insist on using objective criteria

In the final installment of this review we will look at ways to deal with challenging negotiation situations.

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