Expanding the Pie – Integrative Bargaining versus Distributive Bargaining

By on / Negotiation Skills

Imagine that you are buying a used car from its original owner. Of course, you want to get the best deal you can for your money, while your counterpart wants to maximize the value of his asset. After haggling with one another, each side finally arrives at a price point acceptable to both parties.

The above scenario is common in many transactional negotiations: you play your cards close and share as little information as needed to achieve the end goal.

Michael Wheeler, Harvard Business School and Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School faculty member, asks us to imagine a different scenario, one in which both parties reveal their interests at the onset of a negotiation.

A recent article by Katie Johnston for Harvard Business School, “The Art of Haggling,” describes the difference between distributive bargaining and integrative bargaining. Getting to YES, the seminal work from Harvard Law School professor and Program on Negotiation founder Roger Fisher. Co-authored with Harvard Negotiation Project Senior Fellow and Program on Negotiation cofounder William Ury, Getting to YES advocates for integrative bargaining. In integrative bargaining, each side seeks to create an agreement beneficial to both parties.

The integrative approach is what is taught in most professional schools. Professor Wheeler emphasizes that situations that initially look like win-lose negotiations can often be turned into opportunities for mutual gain and value creation.

Of course, the integrative approach has its limits, and Wheeler notes that the art of negotiation lies in simultaneously creating and claiming value or “riding two different horses at the same time.”

Negotiators are often cautious about revealing too much information but integrative bargaining explicitly relies upon revealing preferences and interests. As Professor Wheeler cautions, “Sometimes getting 70 percent of the small pie might be better than getting 50 percent of a marginally larger one.” The emphasis on relationship building marks integrative bargaining’s approach as being oriented toward a long-term vision for future negotiations with your counterpart.

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