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Let’s Do Better than Positional Negotiating

By Radu Ionescu

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In negotiation literature there are many styles, types or categories concerning the process of negotiation. Examples of these negotiating styles and approaches are given labels such as competitive, collaborative, conceding, compromising, accommodating, and many others.

I tend to differentiate the process of negotiation into two types: Positional and Transactional. I do this for several reasons:

  1. There are only two categories to consider and that makes it easy for anybody to understand and apply them
  2. These categories have deep roots in human and social behavior
  3. Understanding them can explain both the history and future development of human relations and society in its entirety.

In negotiation we have tradables, the things that we try either to obtain or to offer. I like the approach of Gavin Kennedy who calls these tradables negotiation subjects. When we negotiate, for each negotiation subject we should have an entry point and an exit point. The person that we negotiate with, for the same subject also should have his entry and exit point so that both negotiators have their own zone of possible agreement in a negotiation.

Basically, therefore, if the intervals overlap in negotiation we try to reach a point in the overlap field where we can settle a deal. My apologies for this basic introduction that is common knowledge for most of the readers, it is only for a clear understanding of what’s next.

Positional negotiation occurs when we negotiate the subjects one by one, never mixing one with another. In this approach, negotiation turns into a competition, sometimes and unfortunately more often than we would like it, the negotiation changes into a conflict.

The name Positional negotiation comes from the fact that in this type of negotiation, the parties involved defend their initial positions. These positions can be: an entry point, a point of view, an idea, an image, a name, a family, a friend, a property, in short – whatever the person perceives as his own cause. Any of these items can be negotiation subjects. As you can see from the previous enumeration, a position can exist physically or can be an abstract concept.

In Positional negotiation it’s mostly a struggle between who is winning and who is losing. That’s why in Positional negotiation, either we split the difference in two (which in most cases it’s not the smartest thing to do) or someone has to concede or to make a concession. More than this, Positional negotiation is the fertile soil for most of the tricks and ploys we know in negotiation.

Transactional negotiation, on the other hand, is when we combine subjects to generate an exchange – If you give me this, then I will give you that. A Transactional negotiation generates trade and exchanges. That’s more like a professional or business approach. In this type of negotiation it’s very hard to apply successfully tricks and ploys. If we are well prepared, we are immune from others efforts to trick us.

It’s clear that everyone who studies negotiation knows about “If… Then…” theory. On the other hand, how many people actually study negotiation? Furthermore, from the people who study negotiation and know about “If… Then…” theory, how many apply it all the time?

Let’s Do Better than Positional Negotiating, By Radu Ionescu


Copyright © 2012 Radu Ionescu
Copyright ©   2012  The Negotiator Magazine
The Negotiator Magazine  (February, 2012)