When Positions Destroy Negotiations

on Monday, 03 February 2014. Posted in General

In any negotiation in life getting hung up on the position can destroy the potential for a deal. It doesn’t matter how big or small the deal, or what business  you are in defining yourself by a position will probably lead to deal failure.  Take a few examples, very different deals that all were failed by position rather than principle.

negotiations in life


When President Kennedy negotiated nuclear arms inspections with Premier Krushchev they adopted positions which damaged the probability of a deal. The Americans wanted 10 inspections annually, the Russians a maximum of 3. The more they debated the more they got tied into figures, bound by positions. They didn’t get far enough to discuss what an inspection looked like. The principled approach would have been that both wanted to reduce nuclear threats and needed to know that each other was working toward the same goal. So there was a win win, but it wasn’t achieved.  An inspection might have been a thorough event with a full team of scientists and diplomats or it might have been a casual look over the fence. Nobody knows because position prevented principled resolution.

After Saddam Hussein fell farmers in southern Iraq regained their land, however the new government had sold the land to a large oil company. The oil company demanded the farmers leave their land as it was to be drilled and prospected. The farmers refused, and dug their heels in, with nothing left to lose they decided to arm and fight to the death for their land rites. The oil company came backed by the army, the farmers by conviction, and were ready to kill or die. A negotiator decided to investigate principles for resolution rather than look at hard positions. As it turned out the oil company would be researching the ground for 3 years before they drilled. The farmer’s harvest would be ready in 3 weeks. So the farmers reaped the harvest, and actually became laborers for the oil company. The relationship still continues.


Think of the homeowner who does up the kitchen, pays 60% down 20% on completion and 20% after snag testing. So upon completion the joiners have 80% of their price. The homeowner, unhappy with some small item withholds 20% until totally satisfied. The joiner happy with 80% just walks away and says keep it. The joiner probably had the 20% factored in the price but the homeowner most likely hadn’t. Had they taken a principled approach where both were to gain the kitchen would be as planned and the full price would have been paid.

Negotiations should benefit both parties

The human being is by nature self serving and when pushed will only agree to a deal which furthers his case. So no negotiation can be truly successful if it benefits only one side. To avoid the backlash of one side digging in, reneging or taking legal action as a result of a negotiation, the negotiation must benefit both parties. It should not be seen as something to win but as collaborative problem solving.

A good deal should improve, or at least not worsen a relationship between two parties. Think of every deal as the first not the last you want to do with the other party. If you get the negotiation style right and the deal benefits you both you are far more likely to be the go to person in the future.

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