Negotiation: The Dance of Requests and Offers

Posted Tuesday, August 7, 2012

By Dr. Allen Slade, ACC

Requests and offers make up the dance of negotiation. An offer is the mirror image of a request. With a request, you are triggering action by the other person. With an offer, you are proposing to act for the other person. An offer requires a valid response, just like a request: Yes, No, Counter Offer or Decide Later.  It is the back and forth of requests paired with offers and offers followed by counter offers that creates the dance of negotation.

A succesful negotiation leads to an agreement that meets the interests of both you and the other person. Bill Ury distinguishes several forms of negotiation:

Hard positional bargaining. “Participants are adversaries. The goal is victory. Demand concessions as a condition of the relationship. Distrust others. Dig in to your position. Make threats.”

Soft positional bargaining. “Participants are friends. The goal is agreement. Make concessions to cultivate the relationship. Trust others. Change your position easily. Make offers.”

Positional bargaining, hard or soft, locks in positions and makes the negotation a win-lose game. Positional bargaining tends to produce unwise agreements, inefficiency in the bargaining process and stress in an ongoing relationship. I have purchased a number of cars using hard positional bargaining. Even if we reach an agreement, the bargaining is adversarial, long and dissatisfying, at least for me as a customer.

Principled negotiation is when the parties go beyond positions to the underlying interests and look for win-win solutions. Four steps will help you do this:

  1. People: Separate the people from the problem.
  2. Interests: Focus on interests, not positions.
  3. Options: Generate a variety of possibilities before deciding what to do.
  4. Criteria: Insist that the results be based on some objective standard.

I use principled bargaining to buy and sell cars. For my last car purchase, I looked for a dealer who would agree to principled negotiation. Over the phone, we agreed to use a price that was $250 over dealer cost. The face-to-face negotiation was amicable, efficient and mutually satisfactory.

Is principled negotiation better to hard or soft bargaining? It depends. I keep all three forms of bargaining in my leadership tool box. I tend to use principled negotiation in ongoing relationships dealing with a substantive issue. Negotiating on principles builds relationships while building agreements. I may use hard positional bargaining when there is no long term relationship and the other person is treating the situation as a win-lose game. I may use soft positional bargaining when the relationship is key, the other person is passionate about their position and I am flexible on the issue.

If you practice the steps of requests and offers, you will be able to dance to a variety of music. Make smart requests. Make big asks. Give and demand valid responses. You can adjust your negotiation style to the heavy metal of hard positional bargaining, the swing dancing of soft positional bargaining or the long term romantic dance of positional bargaining. If you influence the play list, you may be able to set the style of negotiation you prefer. Otherwise, negotiate to the music being played.

One comment on “Negotiation: The Dance of Requests and Offers

  1. Pingback: What’s Your Best Alternative to Negotiating?

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