Learn how to negotiate like a diplomat, think on your feet like an improv performer, and master job offer negotiation like a professional athlete when you download a copy of our FREE special report, Negotiation Skills: Negotiation Strategies and Negotiation Techniques to Help You Become a Better Negotiator, from the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School.


adversarial bargaining

What is Adversarial Bargaining?

People often think that distributive bargaining strategies require adversarial bargaining, such as making tough demands, threats, or bluffs.

Research suggests that negotiators with an adversarial bargaining style often fare worse than negotiators with a collaborative approach. Still, there are negotiators who prefer to play hardball and approach negotiation purely as a competition where you either win or lose. 

Remember, though, the more you know about the issues at stake, your counterpart’s interests and constraints, and your own preferences and limitations, the better positioned you will be to successfully deploy distributive bargaining strategies and claim value in your next negotiation. The most effective bargainers in a distributive negotiation are often those who spent a lot of time preparing to negotiate. 

Here are three negotiating techniques that professional negotiators can use to build trust and break through an impasse in adversarial bargaining:

  1. Adopt a gain frame. Try to identify any benefits that may accompany the burdens you anticipate, and encourage your counterpart to do the same. 
  2. Think multiple steps ahead.  Instead of taking a tough stance, top negotiators educate their counterparts about what aspects of their offers are most palatable and think about what they might ask for in return for concessions.
  3. Keep talking. When talks have reached an impasse, try building trust and goodwill by proposing that you negotiate relatively minor issues first.

Lastly, never underestimate the power of your BATNA. Negotiators should always determine their best alternative to a negotiated agreement, or BATNA—what they’ll do if they don’t achieve their goals in the current negotiation.

In our special free report – The New Conflict Management: Effective Conflict Resolution Strategies to Avoid Litigation – renowned negotiation experts uncover unconventional approaches to conflict management that can turn adversaries into partners. Download your copy right now, and we’ll notify you by email when we post new conflict resolution advice and information.

The following items are tagged adversarial bargaining:

Will You Avoid a Negotiation Impasse?

Posted by Katie Shonk & filed under Negotiation Skills.

In the summer of 2016, Illinois became the only U.S. state in the past 80 years to go an entire year without a full operating budget, according to Reuters. It reached that dubious milestone thanks to an epic negotiation impasse between Republican governor Bruce Rauner and the Democratic-controlled state legislature. The story of the negotiation … Read More 

Understanding Different Negotiation Styles

Posted by Katie Shonk & filed under Negotiation Skills.

In the business world, some negotiators always seem to get what they want, while others more often tend to come up short. What might make some people better negotiators than others? The answer may be in part that people bring different negotiation styles and strategies to the bargaining table, based on their different personalities, experiences, … Read More 

Using Principled Negotiation to Resolve Disagreements

Posted by Katie Shonk & filed under Dispute Resolution.

Parties can often reach a better agreement through integrative negotiation—that is, by identifying interests where they have different preferences and making tradeoffs among them. If you care more about what movie you see tonight, but your friend cares more about where you have dinner, for example, you can each get your preference on the issue … Read More 

Distributive Bargaining Strategies

Posted by Katie Shonk & filed under Negotiation Skills.

Wise negotiators recognize the value of both collaborating and competing at the bargaining table. They look for ways to increase the pie of value for all parties, often by identifying differences across issues and making tradeoffs. And they also rely on distributive bargaining strategies to try to claim as much of that larger pie for … Read More 

Business Negotiations: How to Improve Your Reputation at the Bargaining Table

Posted by PON Staff & filed under Business Negotiations.

In multi-issue business negotiations, research suggests that the advantage goes to negotiators with a reputation for collaboration rather than competition. In a series of studies by Catherine H. Tinsley and Kathleen O’Connor, participants were told they would be negotiating with someone who had either a tough reputation, a cooperative reputation, or an unknown reputation. Although … Read More 

For Professional Negotiators, Three Is a Magic Number

Posted by Katie Shonk & filed under Negotiation Skills.

Everything good comes in threes, they say. For storytellers, this means understanding that readers and listeners find a sequence of three things to be memorable, satisfying, and compelling—whether it’s three bears, three little pigs, or three kings. For professional negotiators, sequences of three can be rewarding as well. The following examples of good negotiation skills … Read More 

Top 10 Notable Negotiations

Posted by PON Staff & filed under Negotiation Skills.

In 2017, all eyes were on Washington as a president with a reputation as a dealmaker entered the White House. The following negotiations from the past year, both inside and outside of politics, caught our eye due to the broader lessons they offer business negotiators. … Read More