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


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Principled Approach To Negotiations

In their seminal book, Getting to Yes, published in 1981, Harvard Professor Roger Fischer and Dr. William Ury proposed "principled negotiation" as a third way to approach negotiations. A principled negotiation seeks to divide the emotions of participants from the process of the negotiation. It frames negotiations as problems to be solved, rather than battles to be won.

Principled negotiation follows four guidelines:

  • Separate people from the problem
  • Focus on interests instead of positions
  • Invent options for mutual gain
  • Insist on objective criteria
Typical vs Principled Negotiation


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Let's revisit one of the scenarios we looked at above and see how it is different if the participants engage in a principled negotiation:

A Principled Negotiation


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Best Alternative to Negotiated Agreement

Unfortunately, not everyone will approach a negotiation in a principled manner. One participant may still come to the table with a hard approach, intending to win no matter what. In those situations, Fischer and Ury suggest using a mediator and being prepared with an alternative course of action, a BATNA, in case it is necessary to walk away from the negotiation. This concept of the BATNA is sometimes considered to be the fifth foundation principle of principled negotiations.

Your Turn

Use Storyboard That to sketch possible scenarios in any negotiation. It is invaluable for visualizing the likely outcomes of each side taking a hard, soft, or principled approach. To successfully prepare for a principled negotiation, you'll need to understand the motivations and goals of the other participant, as well as your (and their) likely BATNA.

A storyboard or two can illustrate and organize the extensive information involved in negotiations. A series of storyboards can keep parties' motivations and interests distinct from the the positions they express. They are also a great way to illustrate a creative solution for your fellow negotiators, or to help imagine the suggestions of other principled negotiators.

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•   (English) Getting to Yes via Principled Negotiation   •   (Español) Cómo Llegar a sí a Través de la Negociación de Principios   •   (Français) Se Rendre à Oui Grâce à une Négociation Axée sur les Principes   •   (Deutsch) Erste Schritte Über Principled Negotiation   •   (Italiana) Arrivare a Sì Tramite Trattativa Principled   •   (Nederlands) Getting to Yes via Principieel Onderhandelen   •   (Português) Como Chegar ao Sim Através da Negociação com Princípios   •   (עברית) הגעה אל כן באמצעות משא ומתן עקרונית   •   (العَرَبِيَّة) الحصول على نعم عبر التفاوض القائم على المبادئ   •   (हिन्दी) सैद्धांतिक बातचीत के माध्यम से हाँ करने के लिए हो रही है