Whenever you're problem solving, the journey that gets you to the
answer is at least as important as getting the answer. Since negotiation is
problem solving, do remember that it is first and foremost a process, not
Below are the eight fundamental steps in the process of negotiation. Note
that only steps five and six involve the actual discussions for resolving
the problematic issues. The set-up and wrap-up to this solution finding are
just as vital for ultimate negotiation success, so follow all the steps carefully.
After the basic explanation of each step, be sure to read the accompanying
Tips sections. You'll get suggestions, techniques, as well as do's
and don'ts to give you further guidance during the entire process.
1. What am I doing?
In some cases, doing homework will involve actual research. For example,
if you're buying a particular type of car or appliance, you'll want
to know what you're getting, who sells it, and what the reasonable price
range is before you start any haggling. But most other times -- especially
with friend or family conflicts -- doing homework will involve straight self-analysis.
This is the first major step to any negotiation.
Here, you must really do some reflecting. You have to be absolutely clear
about what is important to you and what you have on your side; only then can
you start to think about specifics.
Below are several of the important ideas you need to wrestle with before
you meet the other side:
- What are your goals? Positions? Underlying interests? You must know not
only what you want, but why you want it and what you hope it will bring you.
- What's your temperament, personality and style when dealing with
people and problems? Do any of your emotions flare up easily? If so, which
ones? What triggers them, and how can you control them?
- What information do you have about the issues? What do you still need
- What's your competitive advantage (your strongest points)? Your weaknesses?
What are the likely counter-arguments and how do you think you'd deal
with them? What's your strategy?
- What are the worst, neutral and best solutions you can expect?
- Any time constraints or other limitations on your part?
2. Who am I really talking to?
The next step is to get to know the other person or people involved in
the conflict and negotiations. You don't need a degree in psychology
to tune in to people's thoughts and behavior either; just pay attention,
talk and think. It will really help you to get into an analytical frame of
Before you sit down with the other party in a quiet, neutral spot, take
some time and do an analysis of the other side similar to the one you just
completed in the previous step. Obviously you can't read a person's
mind and you will be making some assumptions, but assumption making is part
of the process. You'll be learning more first-hand soon, so it's
okay to make educated guesses at this point.
Understand the other person's situation and how they see reality.
What does their personality seem like? What drives them? What are their needs,
goals, competitive advantages, BATNAs, and interests? If their BATNA is poor,
this will be good for you since they'll have a greater motivation to
try and make negotiations work. If you have a history with this person, what
are their reactions like? How far can you push? Any other psychological factors
you can think of?
Think and talk about this when the two of you get together. Get to know
each other. Feel comfortable. It's not a question of "know your enemy"
but "know your partner."
There are two crucial reasons to go through all this "getting to know you"
business, and it isn't just for small talk. First, understanding your
partner before tackling the issues will help you separate the person from
the problem. Too often, it's tempting to see the person and problem as
the same thing. Negotiations are not the arena for getting personal, or blaming,
or resorting to emotional outbursts. Remember: you're trying to be civilized.
The second reason is that you must learn to see things from different points
of view if you hope to be a good negotiator. See yourself as others see you,
and try and see others as they see themselves. Remember, reality is seen through
many different eyes, not just your own.
3. What are we negotiating about?
"So everyone knows everyone; now it's time for the real negotiating,
right?" Wrong. Steps three and four will get you down to business, but still
in a preparation mode. Item one on the agenda is to get all the relevant facts
Here is where most negotiations find the parties exchanging initial proposals,
discussing issues generally, and getting things clearly defined. You must
go through this organization phase to make sure that you and the other side
are "on the same page," so to speak. If you have different items on the agenda,
negotiating will be difficult.
It's even worse if you don't realize this beforehand. You may
end up talking about one point while the other side talks about something
else -- and all the while you both assume you're discussing the same
Clouded issues are another concern. A wise negotiator once said "You can't
argue about a fact; you can only be ignorant of it." Keep this in mind when
you're deciding what the relevant facts and issues really are. If you
do start arguing at this point, think about why emotions are being triggered
and what is being threatened. Is it just opinions that are erupting early
or is there an underlying issue that's not being dealt with? Facts alone
shouldn't induce argument.
"Too often, negotiation or conflict resolution is clouded by issues that
are below the surface, " says Ed Wertheim, writer, negotiation workshop teacher
and a professor at Northeastern University. "For example, a conflict over
getting a college application out in time is really a conflict over control
or some other deeper issue. We need to try to be very clear what we are really
4. What are we negotiating for?
Once you've defined the issues to everyone's satisfaction, take
some time to discuss what it is you are both trying to achieve. Usually this
consists of an opening statement by both parties as to their goals and objectives,
and what they're prepared to do to settle the dispute.
Since opposing interests -- or what you think are opposing interests --
are at the root of most conflicts, you need to focus on interests and not
positions. That is, what you need (or why you want something) rather than
just what you want. To demonstrate how important it is to separate interests
and positions, read the following example provided by Cohen:
"The classic story to illustrate this describes two sisters fighting over
the only orange in the family larder. Each sister must have the entire orange
for herself; any less is impossible.
A wise parent asks each of the girls (in private) why she wants the orange.
One explains she wants to drink the juice; the other wants to use the rind
to cook a pudding. What each sister wants is her position; why she wants it
is her interest.
In this case, the simple solution is to give the cook the rind after the
juice has been squeezed for the thirsty sister -- thus meeting the interests
Now after you've established the real interests of both sides, you
must also give some thought to the desired outcome of both parties. The outcome
of negotiating will depend on how important it is to fulfill your needs and
the other's needs. There are five basic kinds of outcomes.
If your needs are most important and you don't care about the other
side's, you've set up a competitive or "win-lose" situation. If
both needs are very important, you're in a "win-win" situation. Compromise
is meeting in the middle so both needs are only moderately important.
Avoidance is an indifference of any needs, and accommodation is when your
needs don't matter and you simply yield to the other side.
So what outcome should you shoot for? A good rule of thumb is to aim for
a "win-win" scenario. Most any situation can be turned into a "win-win" and
this way everybody can gain.
Your goal should be to always try and succeed in agreeing, not to defeat
or cave in.
"Aim for a win-win solution," says Jan Clark, coordinator of educational
programs for work and family balance at the University of Missouri-Columbia.
"Both parties should feel they have ended up with something they needed or
wanted. When individuals are satisfied with the outcome, they will be more
likely to work to make it succeed."
5. Where do we disagree?
Finally you can get down to tackling the issues and ideas that you have
spent so long preparing for and understanding.
When you start talking about the problem and solutions for mutual gain,
the first obstacle you'll encounter is that points of disagreement will
emerge. These conflicts and disagreements are natural and should be expected.
Just because negotiation is supposed to settle conflict doesn't mean
that it's a smooth ride. If it were, that would mean the solution was
evident and acceptable -- in which case negotiation probably wouldn't
be needed in the first place! If handled well, differences of opinion will
bring you two closer together. Remember, negotiation discussions are not a
test of power but really a chance to reveal needs.
As such, you have the right to disagree. But you can't "just say no"
in this instance. You have to back it up or offer a new avenue for discussion
to keep the talks moving. That brings us to our next important point: communication.
More than any other process, negotiation demands good communication skills.
This consists of speaking, listening and understanding. For the speaking part,
just speak honestly, assertively, calmly and concisely, without talking down
to the other person.
Active listening and understanding are aspects that are linked. Listening
means paying attention when the other person speaks; it's more than just
hearing! It also means giving feedback, maintaining eye contact, and pondering
the implications of what is being said.
"Remember, you learn more with your mouth closed and ears open than the
other way around," emphasizes Cohen. "Listen to what others say; take their
opinions seriously into consideration. Don't just try and wait them out
so you can 'zap' them when they finally shut up. If you listen well,
your response is far more likely to be something to which they will react
Pay attention to what is not said as well. Silence -- even avoidance --
and non-verbal communication like body language speaks volumes. Observe what
the other party says and does, and what they don't say or do, as well
as how they do these things. Be aware of what you're transmitting too.
Furthermore, be as objective as you can be and use good sound logic and
data to back up your arguments. For instance, if you're negotiating with
your parents for a later curfew, don't whine or keep harping on what
"you deserve" or what is "fair" according to other kids' parents. Be
mature. Tell them you understand that they're worried and then remind
them of the cell phone and that you're never out late all by yourself.
Tell them what you'd give up if you missed curfew for an unacceptable
reason. Remind them that they've changed your curfew in the past
In short, don't just say you're responsible: show them with your
attitude! They will disagree at certain points, of course. But they're
bound to be impressed by how you've thought things out. And listen to
their concerns so you can respond accordingly to try and alleviate their fears.
6. What can we do about it?
There's a song by the Rolling Stones that starts "You can't always
get what you want. But if you try sometimes, you'll find you get what
you need." This is particularly true at this stage of the negotiations.
This is when the idea of resolution -- rather than convincing -- and suggestions
for more give-and-take make the most sense. Often, participants just tire
or realize that gunning for positions is futile. So it's time to really
hone in on those interests.
Also, now is the time for the "crunch," where words are being exhausted.
It's the moment of truth: time for action and decision making. So what
should you be doing?
Assess the trade-offs that have taken place and see what is fair. Did you
receive concessions for whatever you traded off? Were the still-unreasonable
offers of the other party at least justified on their part? Could you live
with what has transpired or have you gained nothing? What about the other
Always make decisions based on objective criteria and principles, not emotion
or stress. Don't rush or panic, either. That never helps things much.
If you reach an impasse, come up with more options by brainstorming together
or conducting more research. If you positively can't settle on a "win-win,"
go for a compromise. If things seem bleak, seek the help of an impartial third
party, or mediator, to step in. They can often bring much-needed objectivity
to the proceedings.
7. How do we wrap things up?
At last you agree on a reasonable solution. The hardest part is over, but
you're not done yet.
First, make sure that everyone understands what has been agreed to. Be
explicit so there are no misunderstandings. To affirm, shake hands, get it
in writing, or complete any other sign of commitment that the situation seems
to call for. If it is a written contract, work out the specifics while both
parties are still together so that proper language can be agreed upon.
Lastly, make sure you hold up your end of the bargain. This shows you're
reliable and strengthens your reputation for any future negotiations. Never
make a commitment you don't intend to fulfill.
8. What could I have done differently or better?
"We do a lot of negotiating. However, many of us don't get better
at it, no matter how frequently we negotiate," reminds Wertheim. "What is
critical is the act of reflecting on our negotiating and figuring out what
went well and what didn't, and what we might have done differently."
While practice can make perfect for many skills, with negotiation
you can only become better by understanding the dynamics at work and examining
events in hindsight. Only then can you really get better at solving problems
in a civilized way.