Positional bargaining is an approach that frames negotiation as an adversarial, zero-sum exercise focused on claiming rather than creating value.
Typically in positional bargaining, one party will stake out a high (or low) opening position (demand or offer) and the other a correspondingly low (or high) one. Then a series of (usually reciprocal) concessions are made until an agreement is reached somewhere in the middle of the opening positions, or no agreement is reached at all.
Positional bargaining has several downsides:
Negotiators who bargain over positions are typically reluctant to back down and become interested in “saving face.”
Negotiators often try to best their counterpart by opening with an extreme position and then focus only on how to counteroffer without budging.
Positional bargaining often becomes a contest of wills, resulting in anger and resentment.
Parties tend to perceive concessions and compromise as signs of weakness and vulnerability rather than as potential value-creating moves.
As you can imagine, this win-lose situation is rarely ideal, and is especially harmful to long-term business relationships. You can expand the pie of value in a dispute by opening up about your key interests and preferences, which can help you identify potential tradeoffs. Working to generate creative options in contract and business negotiations can help you avoid positional bargaining and achieve more beneficial and sustainable agreements.
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The following items are tagged positional bargaining:
We generally think of mediation as a dispute-resolution device. Federal mediators intervene when collective bargaining breaks down. Diplomats are sometimes called in to mediate conflicts between nations. So-called multi-door courthouses encourage litigants to mediate before incurring the costs – and risks – of going to trial.
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How do you use the mutual gains approach in contract negotiations?
In contract negotiations, parties can often resort to positional bargaining instead of using the mutual gains approach. Teaching students to generate creative options in contract negotiations can help them avoid positional bargaining and achieve more beneficial and sustainable agreements. The Teaching Negotiation Resource Center (TNRC) … Read More
When they think of negotiation, many people imagine a positional bargaining scenario where two people are haggling back-and-forth over the price of an item, both refusing to budge. In positional bargaining, “each side takes a position, argues for it, and makes concessions to reach a compromise,” write Roger Fisher, William Ury, and Bruce Patton in … Read More
A distinguished older soprano, Sally has not had a lead role in two years. However, when another soprano falls ill, the Lyric Opera is eager to hire Sally…but at what price?
Sally Soprano is one of the best-known role-play simulations from the Program on Negotiation’s Teaching Negotiation Resource Center (TNRC). And it’s a classic for good … Read More
Update Your Teaching Materials with Our Top Negotiation Role Play Simulations
The field of negotiation is constantly evolving, and as such, requires new ways of teaching negotiation. It can sometimes happen that students come into a class having already encountered the negotiation simulation being used in the course, or that a different kind of exercise is … Read More
Negotiation refers to the process of working out agreements that meet each party’s needs and address their interests. People negotiate all the time in their everyday lives: in the workplace, within families, and when buying goods and services. Knowing which negotiation strategies to use in different circumstances can make a significant difference. The Teaching Negotiation … Read More
When one party brings up the possibility of a lawsuit in a business dispute, the threat can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Yet business negotiators often benefit from settling their disputes before going to court, write Robert H. Mnookin, Scott R. Peppet, and Andrew S. Tulumello in their book Beyond Winning: Negotiating to Create Value in … Read More
A standoff between Democrat President Barack Obama and congressional Republicans in 2012 focused attention on the negotiation styles employed by the two parties as they sought to secure their interests while also working toward the resolution of a budgetary battle.
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Does anyone down there know how to cut a deal?” Senate Republican Mitch McConnell said to Vice President Joe Biden. It was Sunday, December 30, 2012, the day before the “fiscal cliff ” deadline, and the minority leader had phoned Biden out of a sense of desperation, report Patrick O’Connor and Peter Nicholas in the … Read More
How can we avert a full-throttle drive over the fiscal cliff? Despite some promising signs of movement on both sides of the aisle, the current negotiation approach – positional bargaining – is bound to bring us dangerously close to the edge.
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Adapted from “Mediation in Transactional Negotiation,” first published in the Negotiation newsletter, July 2004.
We generally think of mediation as a dispute-resolution device. Federal mediators intervene when collective bargaining bogs down. Diplomats are sometimes called in to mediate conflicts between nations. So-called multidoor courthouses encourage litigants to mediate before incurring the costs—and risks—of going to trial.
Scott … Read More
Why are some negotiation exercises still used in a great many university classes even twenty years after they were written? In an effort to understand more about the enduring quality of some classic teaching materials, we asked faculty affiliated with PON to explain why they think some role play simulations remain bestsellers in the Clearinghouse … Read More
Working It Out is a 27-page handbook designed to introduce high school students to problem-solving, interest-based negotiation. Written by Getting to YES co-author Roger Fisher and Difficult Conversations co-author Douglas Stone, Working It Out presents core concepts from both books in a clear, simple format with plenty of age-appropriate examples from family, school, workplace and … Read More
The Clearinghouse at PON offers hundreds of role simulations, from two-party, single-issue negotiations to complex multi-party exercises. Tendley Contract is a two-party integrative contract negotiation between a computer consultant and a school district representative at an apparent impasse over different expectations over cost of services.
SCENARIO: A school district and a computer consultant are negotiating a … Read More
The PON Clearinghouse offers hundreds of role simulations, from two-party, single-issue negotiations to complex multi-party exercises. Mountain View Farm is a two-party, multi-issue integrative negotiation between a farmer and a neighbor over the sale or lease of part of the neighbor’s land.
SCENARIO: A Vermont farmer somewhat interested in the possibility of expanding activities … Read More
Negotiation researchers have long studied how to use “carrots”-promises of mutual gains-to induce agreement. Less attention has been given to “sticks,” specifically, the effectiveness of threats.
Threats often have a negative connotation-understandably so, as they’ve often been associated with offers that can’t be refused or, in some cases, warnings of annihilation. But sometimes threats are justified. … Read More
Understanding how to arrange the meeting space is a key aspect of preparing for negotiation. In this video, Professor Guhan Subramanian discusses a real world example of how seating arrangements can influence a negotiator’s success. This discussion was held at the 3 day executive education workshop for senior executives at the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School.
Guhan Subramanian is the Professor of Law and Business at the Harvard Law School and Professor of Business Law at the Harvard Business School.