There are great tactics in this book. But it doesn’t have a solid foundation. The book has a good reframe of how to approach negotiation, moving from positions (“I want to pay $X for my new house”) to interests (“I can only pay for this from the sale of my house”). Negotiating from interests is principled negotiation (which the authors admit is not the best name because it connotes arguments from “the principle of the thing” – a position). Principled negotiation is more effective at reaching mutually beneficial agreements. 

The problem is that the core tenet is simply not susceptible to objective evaluation: “principled negotiation produces wise agreements amicably and efficiently.” I mean, what is that. And as another problem, principled negotiation does not get rid of negotiating from positions because you must persuade the other side to use principled negotiation – and that’s a position. 

We’ve all experienced negotiation from positions: I want this rent, you want to charge that rent. 

Problem #1 with arguing from positions: people fuse their identity with the position and have to defend them  – saving face.  Problem #2 with arguing from positions: positions incentivize parties to adopt extreme positions to be moved into concessions. this takes time and effort to resolve Problem #3 with arguing from positions: contest of wills creates anger that last

Parties negotiate the substance but also the procedure – hard, soft, or principled. People tend not to notice the procedure decision. You can choose to use principled negotiation. Soft negotiator: makes concessions, regrets them is bitter. Hard negotiator: battle of wills, one persons wins and one loses. Instead, choose principled negotiation: decide issues on the merits; look for mutual gains; where position conflict, make reference to independent or objective criteria. But, aren’t the procedures to choose from…positions? Seems like a self-negating concept. 

Principled negotiation is a Nash equilibrium: “Unlike almost all other strategies, if the other side learns this one, it does not become more difficult to use, it becomes easier.” Principled negotiation is designed to be effective whether or not you trust the counterparty. [But, it does seem that persuasion is inherently part of the process – it cannot be simply about finding complements of interests]. Principled negotiation forces you to adopt a new view, rather than seeking compromise for compromise safe (soft) or seeking to win whether or not it meets your interests (hard), you aim for a goal that is a outcome of the parties’ interests. Principled negotiation involves four considerations:

People: separate people from the problem (defuse emotions, be soft on the people, hard on the problem)

Interests: focus on interests, not positions (interests are what we really want, positions are particular (and not always best-suited) implementations of interests)

Options: generate a variety of possibilities before deciding what to do (plan and invent options for mutual gain)

Criteria: insist that the result be based on some objective criteria (defuses willpower of any individual)


Perception – “[C]onflict lies not in objective reality, but in people’s heads. Truth is simply one more argument – perhaps a good one, perhaps not – for dealing with the difference. The difference itself exists because it exits in their thinking.” Don’t let your fears cloud your perception of their intention. Surprise them by acting differently from their perceptions. Give them a stake in the outcome – then they become invested in the solution and it’s not “yours”. Be sure to permit others to save face. 

Emotion – tune into yourself and notice your emotions. “Making your feelings or theirs an explicit focus of discussion will not only underscore the seriousness of the problem, it will also make the negotiations less reactive and more ‘pro-active.’” Let people blow off steam; you can even implement a rule that only one person is allowed to be angry.” That avoids fueling anger with anger; “That’s OK. it’s his turn.”

Communication – be present and listen rather than anticipate your response. Repeat back what they said. Spending a lot of time on the other person’s position only enhances the persuasiveness of your contribution to the solution. “Understanding is not agreeing.” You can give their argument its full strength and then point out the problems with their approach. “If you can out their case better than they can, and then refute it, you maximize the change of initiating a constructive dialogue on the merits and minimize the chance of their believing you have misunderstood them.” Important decisions are usually made between two people, no more. Actually sit side by side to solve the problem. 

Interests “Interests define the problem.” Agreements are made of differing positions: every time you buy or sell something, you are expressing different views on your interests. To find out interests, simply ask why they took the position they did, and better still, ask them why. Then invert and ask why the other party didn’t do as you requested. Parties have muiltuple interests, and the more interests the more opportunities you have for fonding agreement. Be specific and expressive when talking about interests to make your needs vivid. Saying things like “Correct me if I’m wrong” involves them in the conversation, gets them to validate your positions when they don’t object. Focus on where you want to go, not what caused the dispute. Support the other person while you’re being hard on the problem; by cognitive dissonance, they will have to choose their supporter and not identify with the problem. 

Options Use conventional brainstorming techniques. Differing interests create opportunities for mutual gain – one party wants to get rid of risk, the other willing to take it on. See how you can contribute to make a process easier for the other side. 

Use Objective Criteria Implement rules for selecting criteria, like one cuts the other chooses. Both parties are in the search for objective criteria: you want a high price, I want a low one – so what objective criteria could we use to find a fair price. If two objective criteria differ, go ahead and split the difference. Consider the difference between getting agreement on the appropriate principles to use and using principles as positions. 

But here’s a problem – principled negotiation should dominate positional negotiation because using objective criteria is easier to defend doing than making arbitrary concessions under pressure; “one who insists that negotiation be based on the merits can bring others around to playing that game, since it becomes the only way to advance their substantive interests.” But it seems to me that principled negotiation is a position. Positions are unavoidable. 

And Fisher admits as much. After noting that “if there is not give in their position [refusing to use an objective criteria], you should assess what you might gain by accepting their unjustified position rather than going to your best alternative” he then admits that “shifting discussion in a negotiation from the question of what the other side is willing to do to the question of how the matter ought to be decided does not end agreement, nor does it guarantee a favorable result. It does, however, provide a strategy you can vigorously pursue without the high costs of positional bargaining.” That last sentence does not follow from the foregoing premise, which is that you can be unsuccessful in getting the other party to use principled negotiation. 

Determining your Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement

So how do you get to agreement? While bottom lines are useful commitment tools, they impair other sources of compensation, and there is not an incentive to offer a reasonable bottom line, creating extreme positions that are difficult to bridge. What works is determining your best alternative to a negotiated agreement: if you can’t sell your house in three months, what will you do. It’s the intuitive concept that having multiple job offers on hand creates more power in negotiation. Be sure to consider the other side’s BATNA – if they overestimate their hand, educate them on why that is. 

Negotiation Jujitsu

These are important tactics. If the other side offers a position, don’t react to it. Tell them it’s one possible option. Ask them how their offer solves your needs. Invite their criticism of your solutions. Ask them for their advice – what would they do in your position. Reframe attacks on you as attacks on the problem. “If you have asked an honest question to which they have provided an insufficient answer, just wait. People tend to feel uncomfortable with silence, particularly if they have doubts about the merits of something they have said.” As much as possible, turn statements of fact into questions – statements of fact can be threatening. 

Dirty Tricks

If you sense counterproductive patterns, call the dynamic out directly. Be sure to ask the other side if they have authority to enter into agreement.