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Negotiating Skills; What's My Interest?

By Kevin Dwyer

I read earlier this year that the Palestinian Prime Minister had received support from militants to give up their weapons in exchange for government jobs. On face value it struck me as a stark example of the difference between a person's interest and position. The position of the "militants" is well publicised, their interests however, appear to be more personal. Job security providing an income to support their families is closer to their interest.

In negotiations, we often concentrate on positions rather than interests and we get a negotiation result which does not extract the greatest possible value out of the negotiation and may damage relationships.

In "Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In", a classic text about negotiating, Roger Fisher and William Ury, explain: "Your position is something you have decided upon. Your interests are what caused you to so decide." In most negotiations, defining differences in terms of positions means that at least one party will "lose" the negotiation. When a difference is defined in terms of the parties' underlying interests it is often possible to find a solution which satisfies both parties' interests.

In a negotiation, the two parties usually have two concerns. One is about the substance of the negotiation and one is about the nature of the relationship between the negotiating parties.

When a high degree of concern is expressed for the substance of the negotiation and a low degree of concern is expressed for the relationship of the parties, a "Defeat" behaviour pattern is produced. This pattern is characterised by win-lose competition, pressure, intimidation, adversarial relationships and the negotiator attempting to get as much as possible for him/her. Defeat the other party at any cost becomes the negotiator's goal

Interestingly, research shows that males favour the "Defeat" approach more than females. A testosterone induced negotiating style perhaps?

When the focus is building a compatible relationship in the hope that the negotiation will be successful, an "Accommodate behaviour pattern is produced. This pattern is characterised by efforts to promote harmony, avoidance of substantive differences, yielding to pressure to preserve the relationship and placing interpersonal relationships above the fairness of the outcome.

When a low degree of concern for both the substance of the negotiation and the relationship with the other parties is expressed, a "Withdraw" behaviour pattern is produced. This pattern is characterised by feelings of powerlessness, indifference to the outcome, resignation, surrender and taking whatever the other party is willing to concede. Withdraw and remove oneself becomes the behaviour of the negotiator.

Withdraw is a negotiating style at times seen in negotiations between parents and teenage children flexing their wings of independence. The negotiation finishes abruptly with an "I don't care - do what you want" from either party when the realisation dawns that one party can't "win".

When a moderate degree of concern for both dimensions of negotiating behaviour is expressed, "Compromise" behaviour is produced. This pattern is characterised by compromise, meeting the other party's half-way, looking for trade-offs, splitting the difference, and other half-way measures. Conflict reduction is valued over synergistic problem solving. Find an acceptable agreement is the objective of this negotiator's style.

Sometimes this style is mistakenly described as "win"-"win". From a purely personal point of view, in what I might label, "serious negotiations", accommodate is the least fulfilling negotiating style.

When a high degree of concern for both the substance of the negotiation and the relationship with the other parties is expressed, a "Collaborative" behaviour pattern is produced. This pattern is characterised by searching for common interests with the other party, problem solving behaviour and recognizing that both parties must get their needs satisfied for the outcome to be entirely successful. Collaborative behaviour and synergistic solutions are the result. Working to build a win-win outcome is the main goal of the negotiator.

When negotiating parties concentrate on interests, a collaborative style is a likely result. When negotiating parties concentrate on positions, it becomes almost impossible to have a collaborative style.

In the late eighties and early nineties, when procurement was becoming seen as an opportunity to reduce costs in the automotive industry, the concentration was on positions. The auto manufacturers demanded a reduction in supplier costs of at least ten percent. Suppliers offered less and eventually an agreement was hammered out. The result was a reduction in costs, but with variable quality and some suppliers not surviving.

In the late nineties, procurement tactics transformed to an understanding of interests. The common interests were in mutual viability. Favoured supplier status was bestowed on those suppliers willing to work together to reduce costs of the entire supply chain from design to delivery. The result has been cheaper cars, more reliable quality and more viable manufacturers.

Negotiations need not be about win-lose or even win-win. They can be about just simply "WIN"

Kevin Dwyer is Director of Change Factory. Change Factory helps organisations who do do not like their business outcomes to get better outcomes by changing people's behaviour. Businesses we help have greater clarity of purpose and ability to achieve their desired business outcomes. To learn more visit or email

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