This node includes some tips (helpful... I hope) on negotiation based on the Harvard Negotiation Project*, a group assembled to deal with all levels of negotiation from domestic, to business to international negotiation.

They treat all negotiations, whether it is a landlord and tenant fighting over rents or a diplomat settling an international dispute over territories, with the same principles.

People tend to take one of two standard positions when they bargain - hardapplies pressure, distrusts others, sees bargaining as a contest of wills, or softtrusts others, changes positions easily, accepts one-sided losses to reach agreement. Which one should you choose - the dominant or the submissive position? Neither. Argue based on merits instead. Harvard calls their method “principled negotiation” which can be summed up in the following four points:

Separate the people from the problem

Remember that negotiators are people first. When attacking, attack the problem and not the people. When others attack personally, try not to take it very seriously and put the focus back on the common problem. There is actually a shared goal of resolving the issue at hand.

Focus on interests, not positions

Behind every stated position (“I won’t pay.”) is an underlying interest (“My work hours just got cut this month I don’t know what to do.”) The key to negotiation is to seek out the hidden interest and resolve it instead of reacting to the visible position. Simply ask the other party about the rationale behind their position or get them to expand on what other people behind the scenes are asking (such as their wife or their constituency). It is also your job to illuminate as effectively as possible your own position and state the reason behind it. If someone can’t pay this month, perhaps they can next month when they have more hours.

Work together to create options that will satisfy both parties

Imagine two kids fighting for an orange. A teacher steps in and cuts it – and hands one half to each of the kids. One eats his half and throws away the peel. The other throws away the meat and bakes a cake with the peel. Imagine if they communicated with each other more effectively about their interests behind the positions. They could have both had more of what they wanted and there would have been nothing wasted.

Most people think that a solution is a point along a straight line drawn between the two negotiators. The truth is, if you spend time creatively generating options, you will find that you can get some room and find your solutions dot along a large field. Of course, there are some truths that you can’t deny and some conflicts you can never resolve. Aside from those lost causes, insisting on your own position, thoroughly listening to the other position and creatively generating solutions can produce unexpected results.

Insist on using objective criteria

Instead of arguing over a price that both parties have arbitrarily set, it is much more reasonable to search for objective criteria such as market rate. You can also look at precedents of how other parties have solved similar disputes. Having a common criteria makes both parties examine the problem in the cold light of day, instead of letting the person with the strongest will determine what is “fair”.


Clearly, none of these tips are startling. But, using these thoroughly in life – allowing reason and creativity intervene in negotiations instead of letting emotions run wild is appealing. I purchased this book because I have been repeatedly taken advantage by landlords, boyfriends and employers, submissively giving into their demands and manipulations. No more taking the ‘soft’ position then suddenly stupidly lurching to the ‘hard’ position in emergencies for me. The principled position is more dignified. Stronger solutions emerge. It is less chaotic. Applying reason is better for everyone.

*Getting to Yes, Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In, Roger Fisher and William Ury 1981, Second Edition, 1991.

Before Qia and B go to dinner, B says, "I really like Di."

Qia is instantly jealous. Also, what the hell? If he wants Di, he should date her.

Di puts on an elegant dinner for six in her elegant modern house. B asks about the house and it's big. Qia asks for the house tour and Di says that other parts are too messy. Good, thinks Qia. The public spaces are for show and Di is actually a real person.

On the way home B says that he likes Di again. He says that P has had other mistresses, but Di understands him and tolerates? Puts up with? Humors? Qia forgets what term he uses because she is 9/10s asleep. He says that P is brilliant but has some holes in his social skills. Unlikely to change in his 80s.

He also says that quite a while ago, while Qia was sick, he told Di that they'd better just have dinner with the two of them. Apparently Qia passed that test, so now she gets to have dinner with six. Qia buys a new pair of second hand jeans for $6 and wears a green cashmere sweater. Because that's the closest she can approximate the social code for what to wear. It turns out to be wrong, the other two women are wearing red and black, but not too far wrong. Qia also dumps red wine on her sweater but washes it out quickly in cold water and manages to miss the couch and rug. Whew.

In the morning Qia thinks about it. B has said a long time ago, over a year, that he would like to model a relationship on Di and P.

Yes, thinks Qia, I get it. But I want to be P, not Di.

After all, B has a neater house.

He might be the better cook. Really, he wins with flesh and she wins with vegetables. Win win.

He has actual social skills and has told her that he can get along with anyone.

Qia relaxes and looks forward to the next time they get together. Because she is going to enjoy endorsing the model, and then saying that she thinks B should be Di and Qia should be P. She suspects that this is NOT what B has in mind, but she is also sure that it will make him laugh.

Maybe, just maybe, they can take turns being P and Di.


Ne*go`ti*a"tion (?), n. [L. negotiatio: cf. F. n'egociation.]


The act or process of negotiating; a treating with another respecting sale or purchase. etc.


Hence, mercantile business; trading.


Who had lost, with these prizes, forty thousand pounds, after twenty years' negotiation in the East Indies. Evelyn.


The transaction of business between nations; the mutual intercourse of governments by diplomatic agents, in making treaties, composing difference, etc.; as, the negotiations at Ghent.

An important negotiation with foreign powers. Macaulay.


© Webster 1913.

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