Getting To Yes
Negotiation is closely related to our lives. Buyers and sellers bargain over the price of a product. Employees strive for a promotion or a pay raise from the boss. Children debate their parents over what time to go to bed at night. These are all familiar negotiation scenes in our daily lives. Everyone is a negotiator, and those who are better at negotiation meet their needs more efficiently. Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In presents the research results of the Harvard Negotiation Project. This book will teach you how to negotiate more efficiently and help you achieve win-win outcomes!
Author : Roger Fisher, William Ury, Bruce Patton
This book was written by three senior experts from the Harvard Negotiation Project: Roger Fisher, William Ury, and Bruce Patton. They specialize in researching negotiation and often present lectures about their findings to companies and government agencies. They also accumulate a lot of practical experience with negotiation through providing negotiation consulting services. For this reason, their book has been hailed as “the authoritative guide in the field of negotiation.”
What are the drawbacks of positional bargaining? | Chapter 1
First, let’s explore part one to understand what positional bargaining is, as well as some of its drawbacks.
The most common phenomenon during negotiations occurs when both parties stand firmly on opposing sides in their respective positions and defend their interests. When both parties equate the idea of defending their positions with safeguarding their dignity, the negotiation is less likely to achieve consensus. Therefore, many negotiations eventually evolve into battlefields where both parties argue just to maintain their image. They simultaneously try to overwhelm the other party to such an extent that they forget their original interests. This common situation is what the book refers to as “positional bargaining.”
Let’s look at an example of “positional bargaining.” Two children wanted to share a piece of cake. Their original intention was to distribute the cake equally, but while talking, one began to emphasize, “I am older, so I should eat a little bit more.” In contrast, the other started to stress, “I am strong, so I should eat a little bit more.” As a result, both parties gradually came to stand in their respective positions. They turned the focus of the negotiation into who is older or stronger. They ignored the fact that their fundamental interest was eating the cake. The scenario that we just described represents a typical case of “positional bargaining.”
So, what are the drawbacks of “positional bargaining”?
Firstly, the results of “positional bargaining” often fail to meet both parties’ needs simultaneously, meaning that it is challenging to produce win-win outcomes. Specifically, this failure implies two possible results: either one party wins and the other loses or both parties lose.
Let’s talk about the first outcome, where one wins and the other loses. This situation often occurs when one side’s status is unequal to the others, such as negotiations between strong and weak countries, Party A and Party B in a contract, leaders and subordinates, and so on. Generally speaking, the party with higher status will take stricter measures, while the weaker party will be more mild-mannered. Suppose both sides get themselves into a “positional bargaining” stance. In this case, it usually results in the strong dominating and taking advantage of the weak, while the more vulnerable party compromises to avoid additional friction.
The second outcome occurs when both parties lose as the negotiation breaks down. Let’s look at an example. During President John F. Kennedy’s reign, the United States and the Soviet Union negotiated a total ban on nuclear testing. One of the topics was about how many inspections would be allowed each year in areas suspected of nuclear testing activities in their own territory. The United States insisted on at least ten inspections, while the Soviet Union insisted on only three. Neither side wanted to make concessions, and eventually the talks broke down. This example illustrates the second possible result when “positional bargaining” fails to achieve beneficial outcomes: both parties lose.
However, is it really impossible to reach a consensus on this issue? The United States advocated for ten inspections per year while the Soviet Union advocated for three per year. Thus, the two countries seemed caught in a deadlock. However, the authors point out that they could have taken a different approach and discussed the design of inspection procedures. For instance, by focusing on the number of days an inspection might last and the number of people it might take for each country to inspect nuclear tests in their respective territories, they might discover that they could send one person to inspect for one day or 100 people to inspect for one month. Considering the issue from this perspective might have allowed them to satisfy the United States’ demand for more inspections and the Soviet Union’s request to reduce interference from the other side. This way, perhaps the negotiations could have continued. However, because both parties were uncompromising and stuck to their respective positions, they failed to consider a plan that would satisfy both parties.
Next, let’s look at the second drawback of “positional bargaining”: inefficiency.
This disadvantage is not hard to understand. When two parties hold opposite views on an issue, they tend to either stick to their positions or frequently alter negotiation terms to test each other’s bottom line. However, wasting time on such pointless arguing only leads to inefficient negotiation processes. If any party takes an extreme initial position, the possibility of finding a compromise also decreases, thus increasing the time needed for negotiations.
Let’s look at the typical example of a customer bargaining with a shopkeeper in a clothing store. The shopkeeper asks for $100, while the customer bargains for $20. The shopkeeper thinks that the customer does not know the item’s real value and is being insincere in their offer. On the other hand, the customer believes that the shopkeeper sets their prices randomly, which is not kind. As a result, the topic of dispute becomes whether they know the goods’ actual value and whether the price is set randomly. Then, the shopkeeper switches his reasoning and says that the production alone costs him $80. Still, the customer states that the item is only worth $30 considering its quality. Thus, the negotiation topic has changed again to the cost versus the quality of the clothes. The price continuously changes from $80 to $60, and from $30 to $40. During the process, the buyer often threatens to pull out of the deal if the shopkeeper doesn’t want to lower the price. Time flies as the two sides bargain back and forth.
Maybe the shopkeeper and the customer eventually make a deal at a certain price. Nevertheless, they wasted 15 minutes just to strike a bargain. Do you think this process is very inefficient? It is even more likely that the two sides fail to reach a deal even after bargaining for more than 15 minutes.
The third drawback to “positional bargaining” that cannot be ignored is the possibility of endangering an ongoing relationship.
Since both sides have different demands, it is easy for each negotiating party to treat the other as an enemy that must be defeated. Thus, confrontation arises from the negotiation process. When one party finds that their reasonable demands are not taken seriously, they may become angry and or even more aggressive. As a result, the ongoing relationship is endangered.
We are now coming to the end of part one. We learned about three drawbacks of “positional bargaining” that commonly occur in daily life: producing unbeneficial outcomes, inefficiency, and endangering ongoing relationships.