Summary of Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In
By Tanya Glaser, Conflict Research Consortium
When the Other Party Is More Powerful
No negotiation method can completely overcome differences in power. However, Fisher and Ury suggest ways to protect the weaker party against a poor agreement, and to help the weaker party make the most of their assets.
Often negotiators will establish a “bottom line” in an attempt to protect themselves against a poor agreement. The bottom line is what the party anticipates as the worst acceptable outcome. Negotiators decide in advance of actual negotiations to reject any proposal below that line. Fisher and Ury argue against using bottom lines.
Because the bottom line figure is decided upon in advance of discussions, the figure may be arbitrary or unrealistic. Having already committed oneself to a rigid bottom line also inhibits inventiveness in generating options.
Instead the weaker party should concentrate on assessing their best alternative to a negotiated agreement (BATNA). The authors note that “the reason you negotiate is to produce something better than the results you can obtain without negotiating.”[p. 104] The weaker party should reject agreements that would leave them worse off than their BATNA.
Without a clear idea of their BATNA a party is simply negotiating blindly. The BATNA is also key to making the most of existing assets. Power in a negotiation comes from the ability to walk away from negotiations. Thus the party with the best BATNA is the more powerful party in the negotiation. Generally, the weaker party can take unilateral steps to improve their alternatives to negotiation. They must identify potential opportunities and take steps to further develop those opportunities.
The weaker party will have a better understanding of the negotiation context if they also try to estimate the other side’s BATNA. Fisher and Ury conclude that “developing your BATNA thus not only enables you to determine what is a minimally acceptable agreement, it will probably raise that minimum.”[p. 111]
When the Other Party Won’t Use Principled Negotiation
Sometimes the other side refuses to budge from their positions, makes personal attacks, seeks only to maximize their own gains, and generally refuses to partake in principled negotiations. Fisher and Ury describe three approaches for dealing with opponents who are stuck in positional bargaining. First, one side may simply continue to use the principled approach. The authors point out that this approach is often contagious.
Second, the principled party may use “negotiation jujitsu” to bring the other party in line. The key is to refuse to respond in kind to their positional bargaining. When the other side attacks, the principles party should not counter attack, but should deflect the attack back onto the problem. Positional bargainers usually attack either by asserting their position, or by attacking the other side’s ideas or people.
When they assert their position, respond by asking for the reasons behind that position. When they attack the other side’s ideas, the principle party should take it as constructive criticism and invite further feedback and advice. Personal attacks should be recast as attacks on the problem. Generally the principled party should use questions and strategic silences to draw the other party out.
When the other party remains stuck in positional bargaining, the one-text approach may be used. In this approach a third party is brought in. The third party should interview each side separately to determine what their underlying interests are. The third party then assembles a list of their interests and asks each side for their comments and criticisms of the list. She then takes those comments and draws up a proposal.
The proposal is given to the parties for comments, redrafted, and returned again for more comments. This process continues until the third party feels that no further improvements can be made. At that point, the parties must decide whether to accept the refined proposal or to abandon negotiations.
When the Other Party Uses Dirty Tricks
Sometimes parties will use unethical or unpleasant tricks in an attempt to gain an advantage in negotiations such as good guy/bad guy routines, uncomfortable seating, and leaks to the media. The best way to respond to such tricky tactics is to explicitly raise the issue in negotiations, and to engage in principled negotiation to establish procedural ground rules for the negotiation.
Fisher and Ury identify the general types of tricky tactics. Parties may engage in deliberate deception about the facts, their authority, or their intentions. The best way to protect against being deceived is to seek verification the other side’s claims. It may help to ask them for further clarification of a claim, or to put the claim in writing. However, in doing this it is very important not to be seen as calling the other party a liar; that is, as making a personal attack.
Another common type of tactic is psychological warfare. When the tricky party uses a stressful environment, the principled party should identify the problematic element and suggest a more comfortable or fair change. Subtle personal attacks can be made less effective simply be recognizing them for what they are. Explicitly identifying them to the offending party will often put an end to suck attacks. Threats are a way to apply psychological pressure. The principled negotiator should ignore them where possible, or undertake principled negotiations on the use of threats in the proceedings.
The last class of trick tactics are positional pressure tactics which attempt to structure negotiations so that only one side can make concessions. The tricky side may refuse to negotiate, hoping to use their entry into negotiations as a bargaining chip, or they may open with extreme demands.
The principled negotiator should recognize this as a bargaining tactic, and look into their interests in refusing to negotiate. They may escalate their demands for every concession they make. The principled negotiator should explicitly identify this tactic to the participants, and give the parties a chance to consider whether they want to continue negotiations under such conditions.
Parties may try to make irrevocable commitments to certain positions, or to make-take-it-or-leave-it offers. The principled party may decline to recognize the commitment or the finality of the offer, instead treating them as proposals or expressed interests. Insist that any proposals be evaluated on their merits, and don’t hesitate to point out dirty tricks.