December 2, 2022

Principled Negotiation

Shailja Sharma

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Principled Negotiation

The ability to negotiate is a key skill that every leader should possess. Developing the competence to negotiate successfully with other corporate entities, suppliers, and employees should become a priority if you want to climb the corporate ladder.

Principled negotiation, also referred to as a “win-win” outcome is an approach that seeks to resolve disagreements between parties. It is about coming to an agreement that will benefit all parties involved. This interest-based approach focuses on conflict management and resolution and finding a mutually shared outcome. By avoiding the “all or nothing” attitude, principled negotiation helps all parties to achieve objectives and satisfy expectations. This idea was first described in the text, “Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In (Penguin, 2nd edition, 1991) by Roger Fisher, William Ury, and Bruce Patton of the Harvard Negotiation Project. The authors promote the concept of principled negotiation as a method to produce wise outcomes efficiently and amicably.

Although there has been some criticism that these principles are too idealistic and that principled negotiation is not a negotiation panacea, this approach is valued by mediators to resolve conflicts as it can help parties to negotiate productively and efficiently.

Negotiations typically follow a process of “positional bargaining,” which represents the win-lose paradigm. Each party uses their position on an issue to bargain with other parties and they eventually agree on one position. Unfortunately, these negotiating tactics can breed hostility when one party’s respective interests are overlooked or neglected and this can lead to protracted, inefficient negotiations. Ego-centric behavior and stubbornness can also pose significant obstacles to reaching amicable agreements. This article aims to explore how to break the stale-mate in emotionally charged, complex negotiations by employing the prescriptions of principled negotiation.

Develop Objective Criteria

Sometimes, the interests of both parties will be directly opposed, which can fuel destructive battles. By using objective criteria, parties can resolve their differences efficiently and preserve their relationships by using reasonable standards.

The parties in any negotiation should develop objective criteria that are legitimate and practical. Objectivity must be emphasized in this scenario. Scientific findings, professional standards and legal precedents are important sources of objective criteria. Both parties need to agree to be bound by these criteria. If each party advocates for a different standard, look for an objective basis to choose, which is more appropriate, or ask a neutral third party to choose a standard for you. Criteria should not be influenced by or biased towards any party.

Yield to Principle, not Pressure

It is important to keep an open mind when you engage in negotiations. However, do not allow yourself to yield to pressure. Pressure comes in many guises, it can take the form of a threat, a bribe, emotional manipulation or obstinance. Fisher, Ury and Patton urge people to stand firm in the face of these power plays and resist them. Walk away if you are being pressured to accept an illegitimate standard or shift the discussion from a search for substantive criteria to a search for procedural criteria.

By applying independent standards, each party should feel that the standards applied are equitable and mutually beneficial. If you yield based on principle, you will have understood and agreed with the reasoning behind the other party’s suggestions. Additionally, you will understand and agree to the reasons why the standards are deemed appropriate in the context of your negotiations.

Be Honest and Preserve your Reputation

Negotiations should not become overly contentious or personal. Think about the big picture and remember your conduct is important for your reputation in the business community. Strive to be reasonable and rational during these procedures. The person you are negotiating with today may be someone you are interested in doing business with in the future. They also have connections in the business community. Your reputation is the key to your success in the future. Treat people with respect and deal with them honestly. Gaining an upper-hand in the short term through power tactics may damage your reputation irrevocably. Do not trade short term gains for long term problems. In our hyper-connected world today, your conduct as a business professional can be on display for the world to judge within seconds.

Manage Emotions

People can react with fear or anger when they feel their interests are threatened and interpret resistance to their position as a direct personal attack. Emotions are inevitable in any negotiation. Acknowledging emotions and understanding their source is an important first step. Emotions that are deemed unreasonable should also be acknowledged. Dismissing or minimizing other people’s emotions will only breed bitterness and hostility. Both parties must be allowed to express their emotions; however, this should not devolve into emotional outbursts.

By practicing empathy and actively listening to others, strong emotions can slowly be defused. Avoid any temptation to blame or attack people and use “I” statements such as “I think.” Communication is key in these scenarios.

Focus on Interests, not Positions

Try to understand the other party’s viewpoint by practicing empathy. Do not think of the other party as an adversary. This will set you up for failure. Remember principled negotiation advocates for a “win-win” outcome, not a “win-lose” outcome. You are not trying to get the better of the other person by displaying cunning or superior intelligence. You are acknowledging to yourself that we are all human, we all have our interests and motivations, and it is possible to co-exist by finding mutually beneficial agreements.

Try to define the problem in terms of all parties’ underlying interests and look for shared basic interests or needs, such as the need for security and economic well-being. Find out why each party holds their position, explain your interests, and discuss these interests clearly. Look for mutually beneficial resolutions or proposals and discover other options that might be appealing.

Consider Alternatives

Deciding prematurely on an option and failing to consider the alternatives is folly. Do not frame the problem in “win-lose” terms as this will narrow options quickly. Furthermore, by separating the process of identifying options from the act of judging them will broaden options and allow more time for thinking through the options. Evaluate ideas, starting with the most promising proposals and remember to consider the other parties’ interests. Look for proposals that are low cost to you and high benefit to them. Finally, use objective criteria to evaluate options.

Dealing with Unethical Behavior

If the other party uses unethical tricks to gain advantage in negotiations, the best way to respond is to raise the issue directly in negotiations and confront it. Subtle personal attacks should be explicitly identified. Procedural ground rules should be enforced once they have been mutually agreed upon. Forcing only one side to make concessions is another trick that should be avoided.

For any organization to survive in the business ecosystem, establishing rapport with other players is important. As a leader, being able to champion the interests of your company and not doing so at the expense of others is critical for business survival and building a good reputation. Principled negotiation will allow you to maintain business rapport after a negotiation is concluded. Avoid unscrupulous practices that leave others feeling demoralized and defeated. Think “win-win” and not “win-lose.” After all, life is not a sprint, it is a marathon. An adversary today can become an ally tomorrow. Demonstrate integrity and treat people with respect.

Article by Shailja Sharma, Faculty Member and Leadership and Career Coach

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