Positional Bargaining: Strategies and Limitations in Negotiation

The positional bargaining views negotiation as an adversarial, zero-sum game in which each side seeks to grab value rather than create it, often leading to unwise agreements and the breakdown of relationships.

Positional negotiation occurs when each side takes an opening position and refuses to budge from it. Roger Fisher and William Ury assert that principled negotiations, an approach focused on reaching consensus collaboratively, is superior as an alternative form of approach for reaching agreements.

1. Focus on interests.

Preparing or engaging in negotiations requires understanding both your own and other parties’ interests and making educated guesses about why each one holds certain positions; further, identify any possible alternative positions which might satisfy both their interests.

Once you discover some shared interests – for instance, wanting a satisfactory result, contributing to community life or being financially secure – then use that information to craft more efficient options that increase both parties’ outcomes.

Two sisters might discuss ways they could exchange their varying preferences for oranges so as to obtain more juice and less rind, thus moving beyond positional bargaining and creating value, rather than simply claiming it. Furthermore, such dialogue helps negotiators move past barriers that impede negotiation; principled negotiation focuses on interests while producing an agreement that meets objective criteria – thus enabling both parties to work together into the future.

2. Be inquisitive.

One way to move beyond positional bargaining is through asking open-ended questions about your counterpart’s interests, rather than yes or no questions. Doing this helps identify issues which both parties value equally, facilitate efficient trades (like one sister giving up orange rind for more orange juice), and foster collaboration.

As important, it’s also crucial not to blame the other party for their behavior or lack of progress. Accumulating blame turns conversations into arguments and prevents problem-solving from taking place.

Many negotiators take an indirect, nonaggressive approach by prioritizing relationships over issues at hand and offering overly-generous concessions that do not serve their interests just to be nice – this typically stalls negotiations, leading to agreements which fulfill only some criteria of wise, efficient, and friendly outcomes. Sacrificing interests to save relationships often creates distrust between both sides which exacerbates future negotiations further – the best way to build trust during negotiations is through showing empathy and understanding as part of negotiations.

3. Move beyond positions to interests.

Positional bargaining tends to focus on positions. Conversely, “principled negotiation,” as coined by Roger Fisher and William Ury, allows parties to reach wise agreements in an efficient manner. Through principalled negotiation techniques such as this one, negotiators are better able to remove themselves emotionally from the matter at hand and focus on looking for mutual gains that can benefit all involved parties.

Subtle Negotiating on Interests also reduces confrontational tactics like attacking the other party personally or stalling. By addressing each side’s underlying needs or concerns – which might not have anything to do with their specific positions – when you negotiate on interests you avoid confrontational tactics such as attacking their person directly and prolonging negotiations.

Negotiating on interests doesn’t mean compromising your positions; rather, it requires exploring alternative solutions based on mutual interests that meet criteria you’ve established – in other words, building a relationship, not simply winning an argument. Say, for instance, your sisters want to divide an orange basket evenly; rather than fight over who gets which rinds or juice, they could collaborate to find an arrangement everyone can accept.

4. Be collaborative.

Positional bargaining often suffers from the mindset that both sides believe they will lose if one wins; this fixed-pie mindset prevents negotiators from exploring each other’s interests, potentially leading to a mutually beneficial result.

“Getting to Yes” offers a collaborative strategy designed to achieve a true win-win solution. While not passive or yielding control, this requires negotiators remain fully transparent regarding their interests; an approach which may prove challenging for competitive negotiators who perceive this transparency as weakness and seek to maintain control.

Negotiators need to come together on objective criteria for judging proposals so as to reach agreements which satisfy both sides. Separating people from issues is also key – focussing more on reasons behind one person’s position rather than simply on them allows you to avoid positional bargaining and reach effective agreements more quickly.

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