Getting to Yes via Principled Negotiation

By Marissa Martinez

Look for other articles in the Negotiation Resources section.

Everyone has been involved in some type of negotiation. Whether it's buying a car, seeking a raise, or just deciding where to go on a family vacation, negotiations are part of many human interactions. Many people dread negotiations because they believe one person must "win" and the other "lose". Understanding negotiation approaches can help you better prepare for a negotiation. Let's look at three ways of approaching a negotiation and see what happens when they are used by negotiators.

Approaches to Negotiations

When thinking about negotiating, most people picture the hard approach, viewing negotiation as a battle of wills. Hard bargaining emphasizes results. Haggling in a market is the stereotypical image of hard bargaining.

In contrast, the soft approach focuses on preserving the relationship ahead of results. While both hard and soft negotiation styles focus on positions, the soft approach is the opposite of the hard approach in many regards. The couple in O. Henry’s "Gift of the Magi" are quintessential softies, sacrificing to accommodate each other.

Hard Approach to Negotiation Soft Approach to Negotiation
  • Treat participants as adversaries
  • Suspicious of other negotiators
  • Use of threats
  • Confrontational
  • Focus on positions
  • Unwilling to concede
  • Treat participants as friends
  • Trusting of other participants
  • Extend offers
  • Non-confrontational
  • Focus on positions
  • Willing to concede

Pairing Negotiation Styles

The outcome of a negotiation is determined as much by the negotiators' tactics as by the results they hope to achieve. Different combinations of hard and soft approaches will yield different results, but in most cases will result in a scenario where at least one party loses out.

When hard negotiators butt heads, they try to drive the other to a bottom line. Typified by dickering over price, this will result in a win for both parties only if there is a common price that both are satisfied with. For this reason, many hard negotiations end with both parties walking away.

Soft negotiators are usually steamrollered by hard negotiators. They are quickly pushed to the hard negotiator's goal as they give ground in an effort to preserve good will. These negotiations almost always end in a win for the hard negotiator and a loss for the soft negotiator.

When two soft negotiators bargain, they can both win if they can cooperate effectively. However, their efforts to appease the other side may result in both negotiators agreeing to an outcome neither side really likes. In summary:

Hard vs. Soft Scenarios
Create your own at Storyboard That Opening Bargaining Result Hard vs. Soft Soft vs. Soft Hard vs. Hard Both negotiating parties try to push the other towards a desired position, and are not willing to compromise. This can result in "lose-lose" situations if the parties have bottom lines that are mutually exclusive. Both negotiating parties try to push the other towards a desired position, but the soft negotiator is willing to make sacrifices to preserve the relationship of the negotiators. In these negotiations, the result is almost always a "win" for the hard approach, and a "lose" for the soft approach. Both negotiating parties try to push the other towards a desired position. In these negotiations, the result can often be a "lose-lose" where both parties walk away from a "successful" deal dissatisfied with the results. Saw your ad for the car, are you still asking for $3500? Well, would you consider $2500? I could go as high as $2800, I suppose. $3100 is my absolute bottom line. Well, I guess I have to make another insurance payment. I should have gone down to $3000. Great now I'm going to have to rent a car this weekend. I should have just offered to pay the $3100. Well, I was really hoping to spend $2500. Just because we're neighbor's doesn't mean I can give you a discount. It's worth $3500. Well, I guess it's only fair to pay you what it's worth... I'm glad I could buy the car, I guess, but I wish I hadn't paid so much. Alright! I got rid of that old clunker, exactly like I planned. Well, I really couldn't spend much more than $2500. Well, that is a fair compromise... I really wish I had gotten more, but at least Danielle has a new car now. I don't need a new car! What was I thinking? I'm glad I could help John though.