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Negotiation Skills can be Life-Changing

Updated: 2 days ago

Travel and Learn offers a class in Negotiation skills, based on the work of the Harvard Negotiation Project. Their founders, Roger Fisher and William Ury, wrote a series of excellent books including Getting to Yes and Getting Past No that are used in the course. Fisher and Ury have been teaching their principles of negotiation for 45 years and have conducted negotiations for governments around the world, including in the Middle East and in US-Soviet relations.

They developed the concept of principled negotiation, based on the idea of creating win-win situations so that each person in the process is able to get the best outcome possible. This is contrasted with positional bargaining, in which each group stakes a position and then they slowly work towards a compromise in the middle. 

Some of the disadvantages of positional bargaining are:

  1. It encourages the groups to ask for as much as possible so the compromise is skewed in their favor. Think of the seller in a market who asks for an exorbitant price, knowing that he won’t get it, but trying to give himself the best bargaining position he can get.

  2. There is an incentive to withhold information or even to be deceptive which ultimately hinders the process.

  3. There may be motivation to behave argumentatively in order to intimidate the other group. This can lead to ill will or even tactics intended to undermine the other side. 

  4. There is an incentive to prolong the argument to wear the other group out. The longer the delay and the more investment there is in the process, the more each side adds to the “cost”. There is money, time and effort wasted. The longer the disagreement continues, the more likely there is to be damage (lives lost in war, hurt feelings in a marriage, etc).

  5. The compromise in the middle may not actually be what either group actually needs. 

  6. It may be a long time before it is even determined that no agreement is possible, an invaluable thing to know. It prevents the groups from moving on to more viable  possibilities. 

By contrast, in principled negotiation, the groups do not think of themselves as being in opposition. They think of themselves as team members, trying to mutually solve a problem. They look at each side’s needs and wants, and then try to find creative solutions that allow both sides to benefit as much as possible.

Following is a simple example, but how often do small things undermine a business situation or even a marriage? 

Two colleagues are sharing an office. One likes the window open, the other wants it closed. They argue over it for months and it has created ill will between them. It has even affected other aspects of their business relationship. They become argumentative in meetings about other issues, which affects the entire office. Open, closed, open, closed, on and on.

But what are the needs in the situation? When it is explored further, we find that when the window is open, gusts of wind will blow papers around the room. They become disorganized and it wastes a lot of time. For the other colleague, the office is uncomfortably hot and there is something in the office that disturbs his allergies. 

It is not just a matter of an open or closed window. They both have real concerns that need resolution. 

For the colleague whose papers are blown by the wind, could they put a screen or light curtains on the window that would allow air in and also diffuse the draft? Could they open a window in the hallway that would allow indirect air in? Could he move the position of his desk or could the colleagues switch desks?

For the one who wants the window open, is there a problem with the ventilation or cooling system that can be repaired? Are there issues with the building that can be resolved such as chemicals or mold, especially if they affect other workers in the building? If those solutions are too costly, is it possible to get a small air filter and fan so that he can be comfortable at his desk? 

And in the absence of these possibilities, are there other colleagues in the office that would be more compatible office partners?

This is a simple example, but how often do people get distracted by the emotion of a disagreement, becoming attached to their positions and then feeling the need to defend that position beyond what is reasonable? After a time, they can become more devoted to being right than to solving the problem.

Think of a situation in which you saw a small disagreement grow into something larger than it should have been. What creative solutions could have been brought to that situation if the groups worked together as a team to solve their mutual problem?

Fisher and Ury’s books and courses give a tremendous range of tools and insights into creative problem-solving and overcoming obstacles in the negotiation process. We  look forward to sharing some of these insights in our one–week course.

Let’s travel and learn, together!

Keywords: Travel and Learn courses, negotiation skills, Harvard Negotiation Project, William Ury, Roger Fisher, Getting to Yes, Getting Past No, mediation, problem-solving, win-win solutions, best possible outcome.


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