Negotiation: Three Questions You Must Ask

Before you jump into a negotiation, you must ask yourself three questions:

  1. Should you negotiate?
  2. If you do negotiate, what style should you use: competitive or problem-solving?
  3. If you decide to be problem-solving, how do you deal with competitive negotiators?

1. Should You Negotiate?

The first question you should ask yourself is whether negotiation is right for your situation. However, instead of asking “should I negotiate?” you should ask the more open ended question: “which conflict resolution process should I use?” For this second question, you must consider:

  1. Value creation: what are your goals, and which process is most likely to satisfy those goals?
  2. Probabilities for success: what impediments are there to reaching your goal, and which process is most likely to overcome those impediments? (Sander & Goldberg, 1994, p. 50, as cited in Angel, 2017)

Sander and Goldberg’s (1994) article, “Fitting the Forum to the Fuss: A User-Friendly Guide to Selecting an ADR Procedure” is an excellent overview about how to answer these two questions. And, Moore’s (2003) book, The Mediation Process: Practical Strategies for Resolving Conflict, provides a great overview of different conflict resolution processes:

 Conflict resolution processes: from left to right, each of these processes grows increasingly coercive and win-lose (Moore, 2003, loc. 160, as cited in Angel, 2017).

Conflict resolution processes: from left to right, each of these processes grows increasingly coercive and win-lose (Moore, 2003, loc. 160, as cited in Angel, 2017).

Broadly speaking, negotiation is usually useful. You always have the power to end a negotiation and shift to another conflict resolution process. Furthermore, negotiation is often something that you can do concurrently with other processes. For example, many lawsuits involve out of court actions, such as negotiation, mediation, and/or arbitration. So, it is possible to move through multiple conflict resolution processes, which often include negotiation.

However, there are situations where deciding to negotiate can cause more harm than good. For example, Mnookin’s (2010) book, Bargaining With the Devil: When to Negotiate, When to Fight, addresses the question about whether one should negotiate with, or fight against, others that are perceived as being “evil” or as having caused you harm.

Always keep in mind that negotiations can go poorly, and can produce worse outcomes than having avoided them in the first place. However, to avoid negotiations means you also waive the chance to gain information and create value. That is why you must consider whether negotiation is the right process to engage in; it is a strategic decision. If you do decide to negotiate, you must then decide what kind of negotiating strategy you should adopt. We’ll explore that topic next.

2. Negotiating Strategy: Competitive or Problem-Solving?

Two general strategies in negotiations are competitive and problem-solving. Being competitive is more zero-sum, where one seeks to gain for themselves and is unconcerned, to some degree, about what the other side gets. Being problem-solving tends to be more cooperative and often seeks to create value through the negotiation, aiming to meet the needs of all parties involved.

If you decide to negotiate, you must decide whether you are going to be competitive or problem-solving. Latz’s (2010) book, Gain the Edge!: Negotiating to Get What You Want, offers a great overview on when to be competitive and when to be problem-solving. He wrote that you should:

  • Compete when others will compete, the ongoing relationship is unimportant, the issues are few in number, and the outcomes are zero-sum; and
  • Problem-solve when others will problem-solve, the ongoing relationship is important, the issues are numerous or complex, and there is the possibility for value growing solutions. (Latz, 2010, as cited in Angel, 2017)

So, depending on the nature of your conflict, you might find one style of negotiation to be more appropriate than the other. Neither is inherently good or bad: that depends on how you use them. Keep in mind that problem-solving can often be vulnerable to competitive tactics. This is partly why if you expect the other side to compete, you should also consider competing. However, if you want to create value through problem-solving, what can you do about competitive negotiators? That is the topic of the next section.

3. Problem-solving: How Do You Deal With Competitive Negotiators?

Ury’s (2007) book, Getting Past No: Negotiating With Difficult People, is probably my favorite reference material on how to help shift negotiators from being competitive into being problem-solving. Ury called this the breakthrough strategy, which uses five tactics:

  1. Don’t react: go to the balcony,
  2. Don’t argue: step to their side,
  3. Don’t reject: reframe,
  4. Don’t push: build them a golden bridge, and
  5. Don’t escalate: use power to educate.

By using the breakthrough strategy, your chances for successfully negotiating with competitive individuals increases when you are being problem-solving. These tactics can also help protect you from common competitive tactics that take advantage of weaknesses in many problem-solving strategies. And, even if a competitive negotiator remains competitive, you can still create a problem-solving negotiation despite their strategy and tactics.

Finally, remember that your style of negotiation is never locked in. You can always shift from being problem-solving to being competitive, and vice-versa. However, those strategic adjustments can be difficult depending upon what tactics have been used so far. If you find a negotiation has stalled, consider whether you are using the right negotiating strategy, and whether negotiation is the right process for your goals.

References and Recommended Reading

Interested in learning more about negotiation? I’ve scratched the surface, above, and below you’ll find some recommended reading (as well as my references), which delve much deeper into the nuances of negotiation.

  • Angel, D. (2017). Conflict decision-making: A model for conflict analysis.
  • Latz, M. (2010). Gain the edge!: Negotiating to get what you want (1st ed.) [Kindle].
  • Mnookin, R. (2010). Bargaining with the devil: When to negotiate, when to fight [Audiobook]. Simon & Schuster Audio.
  • Moore, C. W. (2003). The mediation process: Practical strategies for resolving conflict (3rd ed.) [Kindle]. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
  • Sander, F. E., & Goldberg, S. B. (1994). Fitting the forum to the fuss: A user-friendly guide to selecting an ADR procedure. Negotiation Journal, 10(1), 49-68
  • Ury, W. (2007). Getting past no: Negotiating with difficult people. Enhanced Audio.

For more resources, or if you have some you’d like to recommend, contact me.


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