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The Advantages and disadvantages of principled bargaining

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Each of these four principles and other methods offer great advantages over many other types of negotiations.

Separate the people from the problem

People who involved in the negotiation would constantly hold their side’s positions and make quick response to other side’s activity. Therefore the problems between two sides always arise from their perception, emotion, and communication. (Fisher R., and Ury W., 1991)

In term of Fisher and Ury, perception is the basic problem among the parties. Most problems stem from the differing interpretations of the conflict between two sides. If two parties persist in the different understandings of their debate, the negotiation is likely to be difficult to achieve. And negotiation is a tedious and annoying process. The problems always arise from people’s fear, anger or anxiety which could make the issue hard to deal with. In addition, the problem always involves the disharmony of communication between two sides. The parties might neither talk nor listen to each other, they always emphasis on their own positions. Therefore the misunderstandings would always happy.

To dissolve these problems, the principled approach tries to eliminate the main sources of opposition power. Thus trying to put your feet into the other’s shoes is overriding important for both sides to comprehend the other side’s perspective and help them to catch the other part’s interests and objective. Taking more focus on listening is also helpful to reveal the opponent and build up trust to achieve the negotiation.

Take the case study of green fish for instance, all of us were always busying ourselves preparing the response or action to what the opponents said, rather than paying more attention to their actual claims. Each side does not tend to keep focusing on what they are trying to communicate but blame and attack the other side. In the event the conflict between us leads to a confrontation and enter into an endless argument. Thus a wise way to prevent these problems arising in negotiation is to think of the opponents as partners rather than as adversaries which are likely to come to of a good relationship.

Focus on interests, not positions

As Fisher and Ury (1991:42) said, “Your position is something you have decided upon. Your interests are what caused you to so decide. …for every interest there usually exist several possible positions that could satisfy it.” The purpose of negotiation is to reach agreement by focusing on each side’s interests, rather than their positions, which means to understand what exactly the opponent want to pursuit from the outcome, rather that merely what they say in the discussion. But people usually think that negotiation is about the position rather than the communication. Thus the trend is to take advantageous position in the negotiation to accomplish the goal. Sometime the position perspective might be so aggressive that the relationships between the parties might be damaged.

In the green fish case, we always focus on the past events to blame each other. Each party of us should focus on looking forward to the desired solution. Understanding to each side’s interests instead of their positions made it possible to develop a solution. The interest of Branthwaite Star Fish Farms (BSFF) lies in the rapid growth of good quality fish. The method from Acquatic Chemicals (AC) did work although it did not totally succeed and lead to a loss. AC’s interest lay in the methods; the inhibitors were very successful within certain temperature. By reconstructing the conflict and reviewing the long relationship between BSFF and AC, it is likely to achieve a satisfactory outcome for both sides.

Invent options for mutual gain

If both parties focus on their interests, it seems to be more easily to invent options for mutual benefits. This win-win perspective is the main different from the win-lose approach. Fisher and Ury imply each party should try to seek out new solutions of the conflict which make both sides to win, rather than one side wins, the other side must lose. Before reaching the agreement and solutions of the conflict, Fisher and Ury suggest that multiple solutions can be developed by brainstorming. Through that both parties might look for their mutual gains.

Insist on objective criteria

As Fisher and Ury (1991:86) state, “The more you bring standards of fairness, efficiency, or scientific merit to bear on your particular problem, the more likely you are to produce a final package that is wise and fair”. When the interests are totally opposed between two parties, the negotiation process might tend to be hard and tough. In this situation, using some outside objective criteria, a decision basis that is independent of either side, is always useful. (Martin J., 2001). Resolutions based on reasonable criterion make it easier for both parties to achieve the agreement and maintain their good relationship. For instance, when people are negotiating the trade of a car, they would all consult in the same car sold elsewhere. Both the seller and the buyer consider this as objective criteria to guide the trade to be fair and reasonable.

Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement (BATNA)

In general, most parties of negotiation will establish a “bottom line” which is left after all factors have been taken into account in advance. The bottom line is the end and worse outcome which would still just be acceptable. Being clear about the bottom line is a necessary protection against being persuaded. Any proposition under the base line will be veto (Fowler A., 1994). However, the bottom line is a business deal settled beforehand making up the final decision. This method might be quite impractical and unreasonable for the party themselves.

Thus Fisher and Ury suggest an alternative method called Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement (BATNA) to produce a better result in the negotiation. As Fisher and Ury (1991:111) said, “developing your BATNA thus not only enables you to determine what is a minimally acceptable agreement, it will probably raise that minimum.” Always focusing on their own BATNA is important for both negotiating sides. If the negotiators do not know their BATNA, they might most likely be lead their nose by the opponents and accept an agreement which is far worse for them. So keeping the BATNA in mind can prevent the negotiators from approving of an undesirable proposition and allow the negotiators to increase the opportunity to get the best possible deal.

The party with the best BATNA is seemed to be the most powerful party in the negotiation. Therefore, the BATNA method is useful to the weaker party especially. Have a clear idea of their BATNA, the weaker party is able to improve their power in negotiation and also evaluate the other side’s BATNA. As Sun Tzu said: “If you know yourself you win 50 battles out of a hundred. If you know your enemy you win 50. But if you know yourself and your enemy you win hundred battles out of a hundred.” Whereas understanding not only yourself but also discovering what the other party wants to discuss and in broad term can make the best efforts in any type of negotiation (Fowler A., 1994).

Limitation of principled bargaining

Rather than giving a long list of detailed tactics, Fisher and Ury propose a “game plan” by defining some basic rules which could govern the negotiation (Johnson R. A., 1993). However, the principled approach has its own limitation.

To entirely abandon position is impossible

If the opponents were discomfort by honest communication, and they are trying to manipulate the negotiation and not likely to reveal their interests, it is not possibly for them to adopt the principled approach. In such cases, the other side, who adopt the principled approach to assume a likely vulnerable position through their honesty, will always bring themselves on a disadvantageous position. So it seems that the principled approach works best when it is understood and addressed by both sides of the negotiators. And in the real world, power usually lies in one side between two negotiation parties. The power comes from the clarity of the bargainer’s position and the knowledge that he or she will fight hard to accomplish the goal. In a general sense, stronger bargainers make greater gains than the weaker sides (Dwyer, 1984). Thus positions are in some ways easier to make a good deal. It seems to be impossible to entirely abandon position in the negotiation, especially for the stronger bargainers.

Focus too much on interest

On the other hand, principled approach may probably focus too much on interest. Sometimes the negotiator will not care about what interests of their opponent are. For instance, when people bargain the trade of a used car, the buyer will never ask the seller why and how she/he decides to set such price. It is more sense to just ask a lower price if the buyer do not like that price. And it is impossible to achieve a wise agreement with the opponents whose interests may conflict with yours. Suppose that the seller may ask two thousands pounds for his used car. He will not likely be interested with the one who give him the money below that price, while the first person who give him two thousands pounds will get his car at the end.

Relationship not always the interest in negotiation

Principled bargaining also focuses on building a good relationship between the parties, which is vital to good negotiation. It can be very helpful to separate issues from people and get rid of myopia for the long-range perspective. However, it is also possibly the greatest weakness of principled bargaining. Principled approach needs each party commit a strong desire based on the need for future cooperation or negotiations. Accordingly, problems may rise when one or both parties do not have the motivation to build a future relationship. Or the principled approach need each party desire to make a good negotiation based on their pre-existing successful relationship which requires a long invested time. In the reality, the pre-existing or future cooperation relationship do not always exist between the parties. Without this kind of relationship or the mutual trust base, the principled approach is hard to prove effective. Both parties will just more care about their own positions and interests rather than those of the opponents. So they tend to get the best agreement to gain more even though the relationship with other side is damaged. Thus, in most of the cases, the principled bargaining seems to work better in family, community or diplomacy contexts, where long-term relations and reputation are valued. Each side must pay more attention to the relationship with other sides to avoid criticism and isolation from other members.

Outside criteria not always useful

Principled bargaining advocates developing objective criteria to achieve goal. But in the real world, each negotiation based on certain circumstances is so unique to any other that there are no similarities can be tracked. To find and agree with other side on the objective criteria is quite difficult sometimes. Take, for example, I had even involved in a fender-bender which I had to pay for the repair costs. To decide how much I should pay for. The garage, which the car owner chose, declared that more than three hundreds pounds would be needed to repair the car. But another garage I chose said that the car needs fifty pounds to repair. No one could decide which claim is correct and objective, and each of us cannot agree with other side’s criterion. Ultimately compromise must be made in one side and it droved us to turn into the positional bargaining yet. As McCarthy (1985) said, when the problem may be in the other side, it is a risk of the principled bargaining to search for a common problem in the issues confronting both sides. And when both sides have strong and clearly conflicting needs and aims with no viable options for mutual gain, they are forced to use personality or positional bargaining.

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