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The negotiator’s dilemma

The most fundamental aspects of negotiation strategy are Creating and Claiming Value. In a negotiation, all parties involved must decide to be competitive, cooperative, or a combination of both. David Lax and James Sebenius called it the Negotiator’s dilemma: Lax and Sebenius argue that negotiation necessarily includes both cooperative and competitive elements, and that these elements exist in tension with each other. Negotiators face a dilemma in deciding whether to pursue a cooperative or a competitive strategy.The best outcome for one person is not necessarily the best outcome for the other person. If all parties involved pursue their best option, they will often end up getting the worst outcome. Here they are, explained.

The big (free) eBook of negotiations language

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“Like it or not, you are a negotiator. Negotiation is a fact of life.” With those words, the world was introduced to, what is now arguably the most famous book about negotiations in the world: “Getting to Yes” by Roger Fisher and William Ury.

Creating Value: Making the pie bigger

All negotiators face two basic questions: “How can we make the pie bigger?” and “How can I make sure that I get the biggest possible piece?” The pie is enlarged (value is created) through the cooperative process of  interest-based bargaining. Good negotiators find ways to increase their mutual gain. They see themselves as problem solvers. When everyone involved in the negotiation profits, it’s a win/win negotiation. Inventing options for mutual gain is the essence of the win/win philosophy.

To create this mutual gain, the negotiator:

  • Finds shared interests
  • Focuses on the big picture
  • Shares information openly
  • Develops options
  • Avoids criticism
  • Builds principle agreements
“Negotiation is always part of the equation. As I entered adulthood I found out that life is not as simple as yes or no. Everything involves negotiation, give-and-take: If we see this film this Saturday, can we see that concert next Saturday? I can prepare the presentation, but could I get it to you on Thursday not Wednesday?”
Gary Anello

Claiming Value: Dividing the pie

At some point, the knife must come out with all parties wanting the biggest possible piece of the pie. The more one claims, the less the other gets. The competitive process of claiming value is also known as win/lose. Good negotiators use competitive tactics to make sure their piece stays as large as possible. He/she:

  • Might withhold information
  • Critically evaluates the demands of the other side
  • Applies (and resists) pressure
  • Exaggerates the value of own concessions / Minimizes value of other’s concessions
  • Takes a judicial approach

As is obvious, some of the cooperative strategies that create value directly oppose the competitive strategies used to claim value. As Fischer, Ury & Patton point out, “negotiators are not friends”; confrontation is sometimes unavoidable. The best deals are reached when both processes are allowed to operate. Only the most experienced of negotiators seem equally at ease with both phases. They accept that both processes are legitimate and necessary steps in getting the best results and understand that it is vital to “separate the invention process from the decision making process”.

Language that successful negotiators use

More negotiations language is available for you in my eBook: “The Big eBook of Negotiations Language”. Below are a few examples of language that you can use in each of the two stages that I discussed in this post.

Create value

  • Can we leave the costs to one side for a moment and just try to picture an ideal result?
  • Before we go into details, can we establish the kind of result we are both looking for?
  • We have discussed one option in some detail. What other options might be available?

Claim value

  • We seem to have an agreement in principle; it is probably time to ask who is responsible for what?
  • I think we agree on the broad picture, but who is going to pay for what?
  • We now have a concept that covers both of our interests; let’s get practical.


The walk from no to yes

William Ury, author of “Getting to Yes,” offers an elegant, simple (but not easy) way to create agreement in even the most difficult situations — from family conflict to, perhaps, the Middle East.

Our training solutions

Please contact us learn how you can improve your negotiating skills, or read more here: Effective negotiations in English