What the best negotiators do

Negotiation is often presented as win-win or winner-takes-all. But what if there's another way?

by Bill Sanders

Most business negotiators fall on one of two sides: the competitive bargaining or the win-win camp. Competitive bargaining is just as it sounds: there is a winner and a loser. Everything the winner wins comes out of the loser's pocket. It's a zero-sum game marked by gamesmanship where truth and full disclosure take a back seat to leverage building and tactical advantage. 

Gamers follow rules such as: "don't split the difference;" "never make the first concession;" "walk out to show your resolve;" "ask for much more than you want;" and a host of others. They all work - and they help the bargainer gain a bigger share of the pie for themselves. This approach makes sense in one-off deals where you don’t know or trust the other side, don’t have good information on cost, price or market value or where defending yourself is the main priority. 

Not wanting to play the game, many people are attracted to the idea of win-win negotiating. Doesn't it sound nice? It's billed as principled negotiation where interests are put ahead of positions, where outcomes that are happily accepted by both sides end in a "win-win" agreement. It's usually some sort of meet-in-the-middle compromise. 

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