Whether or not we are aware of it, each of us is faced with an abundance of conflict each and every day. From the division of chores within a household, to asking one’s boss for a raise, we’ve all learned the basic skills of negotiation. A national bestseller, Getting to Yes, introduces the method of principled negotiation, a form of alternative dispute resolutions as opposed to the common method of positional bargaining. Within the book, four basic elements of principled negotiation are stressed; separate the people from the problem, focus on interests instead of positions, invest options for mutual gain, and insist on using objective criteria. Following this section of the book are suggestions for problems that may occur and finally a conclusion. In this journal entry I will be taking a closer look at each of the elements, and critically analyse the content; ultimately, I aim to briefly bring forth the pros and cons of Getting to Yes.
Principled negotiation allows disputants to obtain what they are entitled to, while enabling them to be fair, at the same time protecting against those who would take advantage of their fairness . Although the points made are logical and indeed a great approach to certain types of conflict, I found that in some cases the method did not completely come together. More than anything, I found the method altogether was simplistic and for an ideal situation. While going through the four elements, I shall illustrate these points.
The first method of principled negotiation is to separate the people from the problem. Although it seems to be quite a simple process, I found a major question came to mind: “What if the people are the problem?”. Being a teenager, I know that sometimes the only reason for conflict is emotions and feelings. A person feels they have been wronged, the other disagrees, and separating the people from the problem becomes virtually impossible. Getting to Yes briefly proposes some solutions to emotion, such as recognizing both side’s emotions, making emotions explicit and acknowledging them as legitimate, allowing the other side to let off steam, not reacting to emotional outbursts, and using symbolic gestures . Again, I found these guidelines to be oversimplified and completely void of the fact that human’s are inapt to simply putting their feelings aside. Also, following the suggestions such as using symbolic gestures, an example being to deliver a small present for a grandchild’ seem to me as a pathetic way of sucking up, and could even result in a power shift, as the other party could see the acts as a way of asking for pity. Either way, aside from such conflicts where feelings are the cause, the method of separating the people from the problem is a very intelligent one. Also, it makes way for a better relationship at the end of the negotiations, as both parties feel respected by the other.
The second part of the method focuses on interests instead of positions. Interests refer to the result needed, while positions refer to that wanted. Again, this is a very intellectual concept to ideal conflict and negotiation. However, in a world where people always want more than enough, and where positions can be advantageous, this concept is seems to be unnecessary and even unfavourable. In the case of a victim’ in conflict, one can usually bargain more than they need’ for their damages. In the case of positions and power, an employee not acknowledging a CEO his/her power would not make a difference in the status of the two individuals and the potential outcome of the situation. Nevertheless, using some of the approaches mentioned could be very valuable to negotiation. These include the prominent importance of communication, in order to fully understand what exactly the wants and needs of the other party are. There are also more specific examples which prove to be valuable, such as saying “correct me if I’m wrong but” , which allows both sides the opportunities to express their interests.
The third element of principled negotiation is investing options for mutual gain. Essentially, the theory goes that by brainstorming as many possible options that appropriately benefit both parties a solution can be found leaving everyone happy. Rather than seeing their problems as two different sides, the parties work together to find one solution that they must come up with together. Again, through this technique the relationships that the disputants might have will not be negatively affected. The downfall of this point, however, comes down to the information shared between parties if it is chosen to brainstorm together. These risks include “the increased risk that you will say something that prejudices your interests despite the rules establisheddisclosing confidential information inadvertently or lead the other side to mistake an option you devise for an offer” . Such risks seem far too influential on the outcome of the conflict just for the purpose of coming together with the opposing disputant. Also, by broadening options one potentially decreases the chance of getting everything they rightfully deserve and could obtain. In spite of all this, the search for options that may potentially lead to both sides contentment is obviously an option that should be explored thoroughly by all negotiators.
The fourth and last element of principled negotiation is insisting on using objective criteria. Objective criteria revolves around the ideas of fair standards’ and fair procedures’ . Disputants are asked to come to the table with open minds, and to even act as a judge; one should be willing to respond to reasons for applying another standard or applying a standard differently’ . Although this theory is very rational and scholarly it again asks for a very ideal situation of fairness where the chances of both disputants coming to these terms seems unattainable. Also, it is quite obvious that what one sees as fair, another may not. All the same, the theory by itself provides great principles for negotiation that if followed honestly by both parties would most likely lead to a satisfactory agreement.
In conclusion, the theory of principled negotiation is very impressive, although it at times seems to be simplistic and meant for an ideal world. Nevertheless, it allows all sides of the conflict to be examined through the broadening of options. It allows disputants to maintain any relationship that they had before the conflict and negotiation. Overall, principled negotiation is meant to lead to satisfactory results for both sides, creating a win-win situation for all.
Colti, Laurie S. Conflict Diagnosis and Alternative Dispute Resolution. New Jersey,
USA.: Pearson Education, 2004.
Fisher, Roger, William Ury, and Bruce Patton. Getting to Yes: Negotiation Agreement
Without Giving In. New York, USA.: Penguin Books, 1991.