Two opening observations:

First, why this subject, negotiation, for this gathering?  Its importance for thinking about future career plans?  Sure, that’s so, very specifically so, and seemingly obvious (salary, benefits, lab space, childcare options, career trajectories, support services….all these things matter, of course) but how do you go about securing what you want, how do those conversations take place most constructively? Most productively?  The question–why negotiation is a topic–is a broader one, and it points us in the direction of seeking an answer to why is it that negotiation–a process topic, after all–is gaining ground as a subject of wider interest and significance.

It’s valuable to think about the answer to that question and I’ll give you some insights….as we go along.  In short, though, process matters.  The process you use–and the way you use it–influences the outcomes you get.  And it’s often a neglected part of the picture……  But, one ignores process to one’s disadvantage.

Second, a corollary point, is an insight from a fortune cookie:  It says this:  “You get the outcome you negotiate, not the outcome you deserve.”  (REPEAT) A powerful and profound observation, that!  Especially, given the fact that many of us approach employment, for example, from the perspective that we’ll show what we can do!  We’ll show how good we are!  And, then, we’ll get a better wage, more support, etc. because we deserve it; we’ve earned it.  But, if the salaries and conditions are set prior to being hired—and, thus, the performance follows–the base has already been set…..and, altogether too often, set without negotiations, certainly serious, forward-looking negotiations.  The consequences can carry through one’s working life.

Moreover, if we don’t recognize a negotiation situation—and it is there but we don’t see it or don’t seize it—then we fail to take advantage of what is intended, and may do worse than if no negotiation was anticipated at all.


O.K., so, for the next half hour or so, I’m going to reflect on negotiation in order to lay a foundation for you.  There is a direct connection between the approach you use and the outcomes you can secure and so I’ll provide an introduction to problem-solving, interest-based negotiation as opposed to adversarial, position-based, bargaining because in workplaces, families, neighborhoods, organizations, institutions–where relationships matter–you don’t want to engage in negotiations that generate winners and losers.  Win/lose outcomes don’t bode well for organizational efficacy. Second, I’ll draw from some of the research to provide insights into the dynamics of the process along with a perspective on negotiation performance and effectiveness.

Much of what I will say is captured, in brief, in the handout you’ll receive which is a summary of twenty or more research studies and analysis of practice, including my own, that we’ve put together at the Center.

In the end, I hope to leave you more aware and better prepared and, I’d hope too, more confident, more comfortable, in approaching negotiations and in learning more about the ways in which knowledge of negotiation can matter.

Interest-based, problem-solving negotiation:

In approaching negotiation, you’re looking to meet your interests, to maximize value and produce an agreement that is legitimate and operational, and that will be honored and adapted, as necessary, to be made to work—and that will last over time.  If an outcome is significantly lop-sided, it’s unlikely to support a cooperative, collaborative relationship going forward.  Courtrooms are places for determining winners and losers, not workplaces or communities.  And so it’s important to recognize that you want to produce an agreement that also, at least minimally, meets the needs/interests of “the other.”  If it doesn’t, if there is no mutual investment, it will not hold up.  So, negotiation is not about winning.  It’s about getting your interests met and your needs satisfied.

Negotiation is most often about future behavior so you need, always to be mindful that you need a basis on which to build; in this respect, negotiation can be an ongoing process, even after initial agreement is reached.  So, you’re looking not only to advance your interests but also to meet the needs of the other—seems counter-intuitive to care about what the other needs but it is not; negotiation is about reaching an agreement that meets the interests of all those that are party to it.  You need to be mindful not only of your interest but his, her’s or their’s to engage in a successful problem-solving approach to negotiation.

Essentially, you are looking to do six things in a negotiation:

  • Pursue an interest-based (in contrast to positional) approach;
  • Frame the issues for constructive negotiation and management of differences;
  • Use objective criteria (to persuade);
  • Generate options (and, if you can do, jointly, all the better);
  • Develop a sense of the realities (know what you’ll do if you don’t successfully negotiate….so you know when to hold/when to fold);
  • Understand the value of relationships in negotiations.

Let’s take two examples.   One involves saying “yes” to what you want and the other saying “no” to what you don’t want.

Take the situation that Deidre, is facing. This is an actual situation, one that we’ve adapted for teaching.

Deidre has been asked to chair a committee that she doesn’t want to chair.  The simple facts:  Deidre was informed by the department chair, Jackie/Jack, that at a faculty meeting she was unable to attend (she was attending a university-wide diversity task force meeting), it was decided that she should become the next department chair–a two year term. “Jackie” informed her that the faculty had decided that it was her turn.  At first Deirdre thought “Jackie” was joking….knowing, after all, of the fact that D was already feeling overwhelmed with commitments at the school, the university and at home.  But, Jackie/Jack wasn’t kidding.

D has a reputation as a superb teacher and demand for her courses is high but as an untenured assoc. prof, she needs to get a book out if there is any hope of gaining tenure.  D has some draft chapters done but is a good 8 months from getting the book into good enough shape to send to a publisher.  One problem is that the service and teaching demands on her are so high.  As one of the few women faculty members at the engineering school, she is always being tapped to be on departmental and university-wide committees.  She finds it hard to say “no” and, further, the school had made a commitment to recruit more women faculty and students  as part of its strategic plan.  Deidre has also become the informal mentor to women graduate students.  People in her classes, and even ones who are not, often stop by to chat, discuss problems or ask for guidance on research and materials.  She believes that her mentoring work not only helps the school attract more women students, but has prevented a number of graduate students from quitting.  It isn’t just her workload that is the problem.  After three years waiting to adopt a baby, a new daughter will be arriving this summer and Deidre plans to take her maternity leave then.  She was not at all sure how she is going to manage with a baby, her heavy teaching load, her service to the school, not to mention her book.  And, now, this!!!

So, she says “No.” There is no way she can take this on.  Jackie is stunned, says she has no choice.  It’s her turn.  And, it’s usually done by rotation.  Her number is up.  All other faculty have taken their turn and Jackie is completing two sequential turns at that. Jackie is angry, accusing Deirdre of not being a team player…says  everyone has work and obligations,…and he leaves her office.  The way this is going it looks like no winners!

So, Deirdre needs to plan, carefully, the next conversation, the negotiation.  Following, in brief, our framework, she needs to get information (what kinds of deals do people make in this situation); what options might she suggest that could gain traction; establish that it is in the department’s interests and the schools as well that she spend her time teaching, getting the book done, advancing herself as the investment she is, that the department has made in her, offering to chair the next term, ….  Underscoring, to Jack, that he has an interest, too, in her advancement, given her value to the department, the school, the university….

She is broadening the negotiation beyond the dilemma of whether to chair the department or not chair the department.  Moving, that is, beyond zero-sum to an interest-based negotiation where all parties can find common ground and move to problem-solving rather than adversarial positioning.

Saying “no” to a proposition, and, saying “no” to a superior or even a colleague, resisting a project assignment or a committee responsibility, for example, can be stressful.  Have a plan to meet the need that you, yourself, do not want the responsibility for.  Open another avenue; provide another option; delay a task…..  The person who asked you wants the situation resolved; it matters less, usually, by what means or person than that it gets done right.

Here, too, initiative can work to advantage.  You don’t want to let a vacuum form, for “the other” to fill with demands….that creates expectations, but, rather, you want to demonstrate interest and capacity/openness to possibilities….have an idea, a plan, an offer, an outline, a perspective, a way for the problem to be solved (not just a refusal to do it…and a sense of what the impact would be on the whole if you had to do X and drop doing Y and Z.….INVITE the other into the conversation about how you see things taking shape…how you can work together toward an outcome that meets the need you both recognize and about which you share concern.

Another example:  Barry has been interviewed for a good job at a pharmaceutical company and has received an offer that he thinks is on the low side.  He is scheduled to go back for a second interview that, he has been led to believe, is the final.  He needs to respond to the offer he has received but in a way not to jeopardize his being hired.  How does he do that?

We use a few problem situations to examine variations on this theme.  But, essentially, what Barry will try to do is assemble objective criteria to support the enhanced salary and benefits offer he wants to get (he is providing information to support his ask); he will talk about the value his hiring will bring to the team, the group, the company….so it’s about them as well as about him.  He may indicate that he has other offers but that he would prefer to work here but he needs to have greater incentive and believes he will prove quite quickly that the company is making a sound investment in him.  He may agree to a shorter trial period, if that is part of the offer, demonstrating his confidence and value to the company.  There may be flexibility in some of the benefits he is seeking.  One can ask, or indicate preference, without indicating that your demands are etched in stone.

It’s important to be informed about the salaries of similarly placed individuals, to get a sense of the salaries in the geographic area or the industry so that you have a solid basis for what you are asking.  At the same time, you are emphasizing your potential value to the enterprise and your desire to join the team….  You are shifting from a strategic buy/sell type of situation to a broader collaborative approach.  Context matters, of course, as does culture and company practices and you need to be aware.  But, preparing for a first salary, that will form the basis for hiring from then on, has to be approached with due diligence and no one should fear backlash if you make an intelligent assessment of the offer you have received; accept and value it but suggest how it would make it impossible for you to say no to the position.  You’re “leaning in” but at the same time you’re acknowledging the value you attach to the position and to the enterprise itself and, of course, what you would bring to it.

These conversations, these negotiations, by the way, must take place in person.  It’s a rare negotiation that can take in the nuances of communication, the building of relationships, etc….when it’s done electronically.

So, to summarize this part, use this framework to help you prepare to negotiate and use it when you negotiate. REPEAT elements.  Expect to negotiate and prepare for it.  PAUSE  Hope is not a plan.  Neither is merit.  Solid preparation, based on knowledge and information, can provide the framework for a negotiation strategy.  Knowing what you want and why you want it, quite simply, can transform the dialogue, from a positional–a typical buyer/seller, job seeker/provider– conversation to a joint, collaborative session that can produce an outcome based on mutual needs and interests.

Research on Negotiation:

What, specifically, does the research tell us?  Well, first, let me shatter some myths…a few anyway:

(1) Negotiation is a zero-sum game.  It’s a question of dividing a pie; if I get a large piece, then your’s must be small; it I gain, you have to lose.  Most people, in surveys, see things that way.  But, it’s not necessarily so, not if you’re looking at interests. And negotiation is certainly not a game, not with the stakes we have in the world, locally and globally. A nation torn apart by violent conflict needs to form a working polity.  Its people can’t do that effectively unless they engage in negotiations having to do with the nature of their governmental institutions, police, courts, etc., otherwise, conflict will persist and violence will return.

Also, global treaties have to meet the needs of all the parties…access to fishing rights while not depleting the fish stock; actions to limit climate change; manage border disputes…. Problem-solving negotiation enlarges the pie so that when it’s divided, there can be mutual gain.  A large part of the problem is that we frame conflicts as mutually exclusive, creating an “us versus them” mentality. Environmental conflicts, for example, are seen as adversarial, economic activity vs environmental stewardship, which inevitably creates winners and losers but provides no pathway to sustainable solutions.

Problems cry out for solutions, not for not winners and losers.  When we approach these problems as if they are zero-sum, we get much of what you see in the world today.

(2) Men are good at negotiation; women aren’t.  What we’ve learned?  Men aren’t as good as they think they are, not in terms of the outcomes they produce and women are a lot better than they think they are.  Women are particularly good advocates for others by the way…..seems they aren’t reluctant to emphasize the strengths/assets of others but they are often uncomfortable advancing their own.

(3) Wait to see what “the other” offers before making an offer yourself.  That’s reactive thinking and puts the ball in the other’s court.  Why would you want to do that?  Starting yourself, at approximately where you’d like to wind up, is the better approach.  Another way to look at this question of  “Who goes first” is this:  What focuses the negotiation is a defensible, reasonable offer.  Whether offered first (preferably) or not, its very reasonableness and the capacity it allows for defending it, establishes that offer as the starting point.  Wouldn’t you rather set the figure then default to the other?  Particularly if you know what you need and have a solid understanding of what is reasonable (in the trade; in the profession; from reliable sources)?  Initiating (with an informed, credible, defensible position) is the better negotiation strategy. Otherwise, being in the responding position, you’ve lost the advantage given to he or she who speaks first, who initiates, again, credible, convincing, open to needs and interests of others…… It can also set the pace and provide a serious, constructive dimension to a negotiation.  It can move from the “I” and “You” to “We” and “Us” and away from a contest to the context–the workplace or the department or the research project.

Successful negotiators, for the most part, research from multiple sources attests, do four core things:

  • Ask questions
    (Seek information and project respect and desire to understand; communication research: 80%/60%/angry/hostile: 40%)   this one links to second point here:
  • Test for understanding
    (Recapitulate)  Suggests that you’ve listened and heard or been listened to and been heard; respect; empathy….
  • Provide reasons to substantiate statements and positions (confers legitimacy; a rationale beyond individual needs—to team benefits… objectivity can be more easily accepted);
  • Label/Preface with constructive phrases (Instead of “you never listen to me, but” and then expect someone to listen?  No, try this:  Mary, what if I were to…you’ve invited the person to listen not turn them away.  So, positive, invitational prefacing before you get to the point….to test, to try, not to turn off the person with whom you are trying to reach agreement.  Let’s try to talk about how we might make this work.)

Negotiators need to be aware of factors that can influence negotiation and make resolutions difficult to achieve.  I’ll mention a few:  Loss aversion, reactive devaluation, cognitive dissonance, behavioral economics, bias, prejudice, history, agency, etc.


So, in sum, it’s “be aware and prepare.”  Approach matters.  Look for interests; satisfy needs and preserve relationships.  Your negotiations will produce better outcomes—and, perhaps—you’ll wind up shifting that fortune cookie message a bit…you’ll get outcomes, from negotiations, that anticipate what you deserve.