How Negotiation Works

Negotiation Strategies: Good Cop/Bad Cop

Whether you're negotiating over chores with a spouse or salary with an employer, the manner in which you approach the discussion dictates how successful you are. If you're too timid, you may give in too quickly and end up making an unfair deal for yourself. This may also lead the other party -- and even onlookers -- to believe they can walk all over you. On the other hand, if you're too stubborn and unrelenting, you may provoke the other side to walk away from the negotiation. This causes the deal to fall through, leaving everyone involved permanently bitter.

Nevertheless, depending on the emotions and the parties involved, sometimes it may be more appropriate to lean one way or the other. A soft approach to negotiation refers to being generally more willing to give in, make concessions, trust the other, and stay honest and forthright with one's situation. A hard approach is the opposite. It means keeping a hard line, being unwilling to make concessions, and keeping one's own situation under wraps. The authors of a book called "Getting to Yes" argue a third option, which is a balanced approach [source: Fisher].

In the book, authors Roger Fisher and William Ury advocate principled negotiation, which has four components:

  • Separate the people from the problem: Try to account for others' emotions and cool your own. Communicate honestly and show that you actively and attentively listen to the other side.
  • Focus on interests, not positions: Although the outright demands (positions) of either side might prove incompatible at first, getting to the root of the demands (the underlying interests that motivated them) allows the parties to rethink and adjust demands to make them compatible.
  • Invent options for mutual gain: This part involves using the integrative approach of enlarging the pie we discussed on the previous page. Inventing new ideas could necessitate brainstorming and thinking of as many options as possible -- both ones you can offer the other side or the other side can offer you. Afterward, decide which ideas sound best to bring to the negotiating table.
  • Insist on using objective criteria: As a preventative method of keeping emotions at bay, try whenever possible to use objective criteria. Beforehand, make sure the parties agree on what is "objective," be it legal precedent or scientific studies [source: Fisher, Glaser].

For people who just don't feel comfortable with negotiation, the principled negotiation approach serves as a great alternative to the difficult choice between being conciliatory or aggressive. By minimizing emotions and focusing on objective sense of fairness, people gain more confidence without feeling that they're making enemies or being victimized.

But some negotiation theorists say it isn't quite that simple. The question of strategy usually revolves around predicting the other side's moves. Because we predict you will go to the next page, we'll explain this concept there.