How to successfully negotiate

Maximize ability to create “win-win” negotiations
in the office


Negotiation can occur anywhere in the workplace, be it daily group decision-making or large-scale business transactions.


Negotiation takes place in the workplace on a regular basis.

Whether it’s trying to convince your co-worker to take down their “Hang in there, baby!” poster with the kitten dangling by a single claw, or participating in a collaborative brainstorm to decide what is best for the future of the company, we negotiate more than we realize.

But what is the key to success in a negotiation? And how do we not burn bridges in the process?

Mary Sass, assistant management professor for Western Washington University’s College of Business and Economics, has done extensive research into different types of negotiations and how different personalities and conflict styles affect those processes.

Sass said negotiation is the process in which two or more parties work to achieve some goal, and yet for one reason or another, the parties oppose one another.

“But they are also unable to reach their goal without the resources or the cooperation of the other party,” Sass said. “So no matter what kind of negotiation it is, you need to be able to work with other people in order to achieve those goals.”

While there are several different types of negotiation, Sass said two main branches are integrative and distributive.

Integrative negotiations, which are classically referred to as the “win-win,” often have all sides looking for a solution that benefits everyone and eventually strengthens the relationship of the parties involved.

Distributive negotiations, or “win-lose” negotiations are when one party gets what they want while the other has to give something up.

In terms of inter-office negotiations and negotiations with clients you wish to continue doing business with, integrative negotiations work the best.

But Sass said that even if you are a competitive person who is more skilled at distributive negotiation, you could train yourself to see things differently so that you no longer see two opposing entities but a combined force seeking a solution.

“For me, I am a very competitive person, so it is difficult sometimes to collaboratively negotiate because it’s not what I innately want to do,” Sass said. “But if you recognize that you want and need to maintain a relationship, then automatically you are going to say, ‘Okay we have to put a different frame on this.’”

Sass said the most important thing to know before entering an integrative negotiation at work is what kind of person you are so you can adjust it accordingly to maximize success in the negotiation/collaboration process.

“People who have a very competitive nature about them will have a very hard time being a collaborator,” Sass said. “It’s just not in their makeup.”

Inversely, Sass said, people who value relationships can be very successful at integrative negotiation.

“You want to maintain a relationship with the person but you also want to get what you want out of that relationship,” Sass said.


Negotiation’s three levels of satisfaction

Moonwater, executive director for the Whatcom Dispute Resolution Center, said one way to achieve the win-win is to personally prepare for the negotiation by clarifying your own interests but also imagining what the interests of the other party might be.

“The most effective negotiation that you can have is going to be one where everyone’s interests are brought to the table, valued and incorporated into the agreement,” Moonwater said. “So the more you can do to show the other person that you are genuinely interested in what matters to them, the easier the conversation is going to go.”

The Whatcom Dispute Resolution Center is a non profit mediation service that imposes a third party into the negotiation process. While this process is drastically different from one-on-one negotiation, it can be more successful because the center arbitrates through negotiation processes that the parties cannot bring about on their own.

Moonwater, executive director of the Whatcom Dispute Resolution Center

Moonwater said integrative office negotiations can be assessed in the same way as the center’s mediations, which measure collaborative success on three levels of satisfaction: substantive, psychological and procedural.

On a substantive level, the mediation process addresses two questions: Did we discuss everything that needed discussion, and did we work through each of those agenda items?

“The substantive is the most tangible,” Moonwater said.

On a psychological level, the questions are: Are the underlying interests dealt with? Did we have a chance to clarify what our expectations were? Do we understand how each one of us was perceived? Did we address the root cause of the issue?

And thirdly, on a procedural level: Did the way we interacted with one another work for us? Did it feel like we had equal airtime?

“Usually by addressing these three levels of satisfaction, people are able to come to an agreement that is durable and long lasting,” Moonwater said.


Finding the interests behind positions

While this process seems fairly straight forward, a person’s instincts are often to simply argue instead. Moonwater said that at some point in negotiations, the discussion often degenerates into opposing positions that are bantered back and forth.

“Positions are the easiest way for us to communicate with one another,” Moonwater said. “In some ways, it’s kind of a social construct of our communication process.”

She said taking solid positions on an issue drastically cuts down on the number of options that can be generated.

“Where do you go from there? It’s either that way or no way,” Moonwater said.

But taking a staunch position on an issue is a big red flag that there is more to the story. Moonwater said underlying reasons motivate every position, and those might include specific expectations or perceptions. Therefore, it’s good to be curious in an integrative negotiation. Ask the person, “What is it about that particular solution that works for you?”

“The more you learn about what motivates a position, the more creative you can get and the more possibilities there are to meet whatever the issue is,” Moonwater said.

Now an atmosphere where people can brainstorm multiple options that fit the person’s underlying interests has been created.

Sass said integrative negotiations come into play in business through joint business ventures, mergers and acquisitions, and discussions on new office policies. But in reality, any group decision is an integrative, collaborative negotiation.

“Within every organization, people are trying very hard to collaborate, but when you’re working within an organization, collaborative negotiations can be very time consuming,” Sass said. “So you have to have the right mindset and the right behaviors to really pull it off.”


Ways to maximize success during integrative, or “win-win” negotiations

  • Be creative – brainstorm multiple options
  • Value everyone’s opinion
  • Be an active listener
  • Avoid personal attacks
  • Be empathetic, try to see where the opposition is coming from
  • Listen for underlying interest not positions
  • Be curious and open to new ideas


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