effective communication skills

How To Negotiate

Positional Bargaining Method of Negotiation

Whether a negotiation concerns a contract, a family quarrel, or a peace settlement between nations, people routinely engage in positional bargaining. Each side takes a position, argues for it, and makes concessions to reach compromise.

A typical negotiation

The classic example of this negotiating minuet is the haggling that takes place between a customer and the proprietor of a second-hand store:



How much do you want for this brass dish?

That is a beautiful antique, isn’t it? I guess I could let it go for $75.

Oh, come on, it’s dented. I’ll give you $15.

Really! I might consider a serious offer, but $15 certainly isn’t serious.

Well, I could go to $20, but I would never pay anything like $75. Quote me a realistic price.

You drive a hard bargain. $60 cash, right now.


It cost me a great deal more than that. Make me a serious offer.

$37.50. That’s the highest I will go.

Have you noticed the engraving? Next year, pieces like that will be worth twice what you pay today.

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

Arguing Over Positions Produces Unwise Agreements

When negotiators bargain over positions, they tend to lock themselves into those positions.

  • The more you clarify your position and defend it against attack, the more committed you become to it.
  • 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.

Your ego becomes identified with your position. You now have a new interest in saving face. Any agreement you reach must be explained in light of your position. When more attention is paid to positions, less attention is devoted to meeting the underlying concerns of both parties.

Agreement actually becomes less likely.

Any agreement reached may reflect a mechanical splitting of the difference between final positions rather than a solution carefully crafted to meet the legitimate interests of the parties. The result is usually an agreement less satisfactory to each side than it could have been.

Arguing Over Positions Endangers Ongoing Relationships

Positional bargaining becomes a contest of will. Each negotiator asserts what he or she will and won't do. The task of jointly devising an acceptable solution tends to become a battle. Each side tries through sheer will power to force the other to change its position. Anger and resentment often result as one side sees itself bending to the rigid will of the other while its own legitimate concerns go unaddressed.

Positional bargaining thus strains and sometimes shatters the relationship between the parties. Commercial enterprises that have been doing business together for years may part company. Neighbors may stop speaking to each other. Bitter feelings generated by one such encounter may last a lifetime.

Ask yourself this question: "Is what you are negotiating about worth the risk to our relationship?"

Being Nice is Not The Answer

Many people recognize the high costs of hard positional bargaining and try to avoid them by using a more gentle style of negotiation. Instead of seeing the other side as adversaries, they prefer to see them as friends.

Rather than emphasizing a goal of victory, they emphasize the necessity of reaching agreement. In a soft negotiating game, the standard moves are to make offers and concessions, to trust the other side, to be friendly, and to yield as necessary to avoid confrontation.

The following table illustrates two styles of positional negotiating strategies as either of these two styles.

Soft Negotiation

Hard Negotiation

  • Participants are friends
  • Participants are adversaries
  • The goal is agreement
  • The goal is victory
  • Make concessions to cultivate the relationship
  • Demand concessions as a condition of the relationship
  • Be soft on the people and the problem
  • Be hard on the problem and the people
  • Trust others
  • Distrust others
  • Change your position easily
  • Dig in to your position
  • Make offers
  • Make threats
  • Disclose your bottom line
  • Don’t disclose your bottom line
  • Accept one-sided losses to reach agreement
  • Demand one-sided gains as the price of agreement
  • Search for the single answer: the one they will accept
  • Search for the single answer: the one you will accept
  • Insist on agreement
  • Insist on your position
  • Try to avoid a contest of wills
  • Try to win a contest of wills
  • Yield to pressure
  • Apply pressure 

There is an Alternative!

The answer to the question of whether to use soft positional bargaining or hard is “neither.”

Change the game!

This method can be boiled down to four basic points that define a straightforward method of negotiation that can be used under almost any circumstance. Each point deals with a basic element of negotiation and suggests what you should do about it.

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

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.

Negotiators are People First

A basic fact about negotiation is that you are dealing with human beings. They have emotions, deeply held values, different backgrounds and viewpoints, and they are unpredictable. So are you.

Failing to deal with others sensitively as human beings prone to human reactions can be disastrous for a negotiation. Whatever else you are doing at any point during a negotiation, from preparation to follow up, it is worth asking yourself, “Am I paying enough attention to the people problem?"

Every Negotiator Has Two Kinds of Interests: Substance and Relationships

Every negotiator wants to reach an agreement that satisfies his/her interests. That is why one negotiates.

Beyond that, negotiators also have an interest in their relationship with the other side. It is important to carry on each negotiation in a way that will help rather than hinder future relations and future negotiations.

In fact, with many long-term clients, business partners, family members, fellow professionals, or government officials, the ongoing relationship is far more important than the outcome of any particular negotiation.

Ask yourself this question: What is most important to me in this negotiation?

Relationships Tend to Become Entangled With the Problem

A major consequence of the “people problem” in negotiation is that the relationship tends to become entangled with their discussions of the problem or substance. On both the giving and receiving end, we are likely to treat people and problem as one. Anger over a situation may lead you to express anger toward some human being associated with it in your mind.

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