The Negotiator Magazine

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Bargainers frequently argue about the value of the items being exchanged. Buyers downplay the value of the things being sought, while sellers exaggerate the value of those terms. If argument is to be effective, it must be sufficiently even-handed that it is taken seriously, and it must go beyond what is expected. If everything a negotiator says has been anticipated by the other side, it is unlikely to have a significant impact. It is only when the argument goes beyond what is expected that it begins to undermine the confidence of the other side.

Threats and warnings are often used to generate opponent movement. A threat involves negative consequences that will be imposed by the threatening party if the requested conduct is not forthcoming. A warning concerns negative consequences that will be imposed by someone else. For example, what the marketplace will impose, or a court. When negative possibilities are stated as warnings, rather than threats, it softens the impact - since not a direct affront from the speaker - and it heightens the credibility of the speaker because the final action is out of the speaker's hands. If a negotiator plans to use a direct threat, she should remember never to issue an ultimatum she is not prepared to effectuate. If the other side calls her bluff and she backs down, her credibility is gone.

At the other end of the spectrum from the threat and warning is the promise. This is where the speaker indicates that if the other side improves its offer, this side will do likewise. Since promises are face-saving devices, they are more likely to generate position changes than threats or warnings. They are also nondisruptive devices that promote mutual movement designed to keep the process moving forward.

During the Distributive Stage, the participants should go behind the stated positions and look for the interests underlying those positions. Why does one side want a particular item? If it could not obtain this term, are there other ways this side could satisfy that party's real needs? When emotional disputes are involved, the participants often demand extreme terms to satisfy their desire for revenge. What they really want is recognition from the other side for the plight they have suffered. An easy way to disarm such a party is through the use of an apology. If this side indicates how sorry it is that the other side has suffered a loss or indicates how sorry it is that the other side feels the way it does, it has gone a long way toward settlement. This may diminish the emotional tension and allow the parties to focus on ways to solve their conflict.

Throughout the Distributive Stage, negotiators must always know their current nonsettlement alternatives. It doesn't matter what their options were six months or a year ago; it only matters what they are now. As they approach their bottom lines, they should also appreciate the fact that they actually possess more bargaining power at this point, since the difference between a poor deal and no deal becomes less significant. As they approach their own bottom line, they should realize that the other side must be doing quite well. Which side has more to lose from a nonsettlement - them or their opponents? It is their adversaries who may forego a good result for a less beneficial nonsettlement while they would only risk a poor agreement for an equally onerous nonsettlement.

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