“Getting to Yes” (Fisher and Ury’s seminal negotiation book) argues that “Principled Negotiation”, or win-win negotiation, is how you maximise value for all parties in negotiation. We are encouraged to “separate the people from the problem”, “focus on interests, not positions.” and “invent options for mutual gain”. By doing this we avoid the evil outcomes of “distributive” bargaining. It’s all about jointly solving problems, cooperating and “creating value”.

“Distributive bargaining”, on the other hand is playing hardball. Whatever you get, the other side loses. It is win-lose negotiation. The outcome is supposedly sub optimal, often including no agreement through stalemate.

The two styles are often described as “creating” vs. “claiming” negotiation methods. The language around each style already indicates which one we are supposed to prefer…

Some years after “Getting to Yes”, a theoretical counterblast came in the form of the “negotiators’ dilemma” by Lax and Sebenius. It framed negotiation in the incentive structure of the well-known game theory model: the “prisoners’ dilemma”. Here the incentives are such that both negotiators will get involved in destructive tactics, even if they would both be better off cooperating – as advised by “Getting to Yes”. Of course, there are all sorts of caveats and extensions to prisoners’ dilemma, but the broad point rests.

So much for theory. Unfortunately, there isn’t a whole lot of empirical support to prove or disprove the thesis that Principled Negotiation results in better negotiation outcomes (please correct me if I’m wrong!). Schneider looked at the perceived effectiveness of lawyers in negotiation by getting a large sample to answer questionnaires. Her research indicated that a negotiator who is assertive and empathetic is perceived as more effective. The study also suggested ineffective negotiators were more likely to be stubborn, arrogant, and egotistical. Third, the study found that problem-solving behaviour is perceived as highly effective. All possibly true, yet this was based on survey perceptions and the actual dollar outcomes are not assessed. As good negotiators know, walking away thinking you have a good deal, is not always a
good indicator of the reality of the situation.

Personally, I think you need both creating skills and claiming skills. In my own work as a mediator, it is undoubtedly the case that if parties can properly flesh out all the issues and understand where the other side (it is usually two sides) is coming from, the greater the chance of success. Most good mediations will typically start with an exploration of the issues, where the other side are coming from, opportunities for mutual gain and so on. This is helpful. However, once the pie has been created, they will also invariably end with haggling and bargaining about who gets how much. Just how vigorous the tactics and approach are in this stage will depend on the inbound structure of the negotiation.

It wouldbe usef ul if there were some solid empirical research on the linkage between structure, style and outcomes in negotiations. Casual empiricism (i.e. my own experience!) suggests there is a clear sequence to most good negotiations: create, then claim.

John Clark