What You Need to Know About Integrative Negotiation

The right approach to a negotiation can make the difference between striking a deal and coming out with two parties disappointed. Integrative negotiation, or interest-based negotiation, tends to be the more fruitful of the two, because it tends to find common ground and come to a resolution that makes both parties involved happy. Here’s what you need to know about the importance of integrative negotiation, and how you can make it work in practice.


What Is Integrative Negotiation?

Two main camps of negotiation thought exist, and integrative negotiation tends to be the more popular of the two. Integrative negotiation seeks to create a win-win solution to bring a dispute or other negotiation to a close. As a strategy, integrative negotiation focuses on the creation of a mutually beneficial arrangement between two parties that are often at odds. By addressing the underlying reasons for the conflict in the first place – needs, concerns, and fears – each party can effectively make trade-offs that leave each satisfied with the eventual outcome.

This is in stark contrast to positional bargaining, which aims to come to a resolution based on the idea that opposing viewpoints are fixed. As a result, “compromises” elicited in a positional bargaining negotiation might not be much of a compromise at all. While positional negotiation often leaves two sides of the table unsatisfied, integrative negotiation satisfies the objectives of both parties, effectively distributing the interests of both into the final compromise.


Effective Integrative Negotiation Techniques

Integrative negotiation is a creative process that requires acknowledgment of differences, out-of-the-box thinking, and skilled negotiators. Here’s how to do it:


1. Identify the Interests of Each Party

First, it’s essential to learn more about the aspects that might be holding a party back in an integrative negotiation process. Generally, these include interests, needs, fears, concerns, and wants. This can also be a time-consuming process, because people don’t typically reveal their interests or fears naturally. It’s also important to remember that though only two people may be involved in a negotiation, many other people are also “at the table.” A negotiator must often represent the interests of an entire organization, including superiors and stakeholders. This can make the pool of interests grow and make negotiation, especially integrative negotiation,  more difficult.

The best way to identify the needs of the other party is by posing a lot of open-ended questions that ask “Why?” (e.g., Why do you need that? Why do you think that’s important?) By figuring out why people want what they do, you can effectively understand their interests and be better able to address them in the integrative negotiation process.

The key here is understanding people’s needs in order to arrive at a win-win solution, not to barter for a better position that leads to “beating” them – which undermines the whole idea of integrative negotiation itself. This also applies to answering questions. Be as transparent as possible and make sure that the other side knows your underlying interests, as well.

This can also be one of the most challenging aspects of integrative negotiation. Learning the best practices for open-ended communication is essential and may require professional intervention.


2. Determine All the Options – Then Narrow Them Down

Once each party has an idea of what the interests of each side of the table are, the real work begins. Cooperation is a key focus of integrative negotiation, and parties must work together to identify common ground and determine the best solution for everyone involved. Rising to meet the interests of both parties is usually a matter of brainstorming. In the beginning, it’s important to simply get ideas on the table without judgment or countering – simply list solutions that will work for you and allow the other negotiator to list theirs without explaining why they won’t work. Once you both have a list of possible solutions, now is the time to tweak them and make adjustments that leads to a true “win-win” situation.

Though some may view them as mutually exclusive, the act of integrative negotiation is essentially distributive. You and another negotiator are creating ideas that go into a pie, under the notion that you’ll each go home with half. Baked into that pie are the ideas, hopes, and interests of the parties involved. Integrative negotiation allows for negotiators to effectively stuff the pie with as much of the good stuff as possible. Through compromise, you may reshape the pie and throw out scrap pieces of dough, but you should both be happy with the result.

Integrative negotiation begins with the idea that both parties involved in a negotiation have fundamental differences and objectives. However, by listening to one another’s interests and needs, both parties can also learn what’s holding one another back from an effective negotiation. By utilizing a strategic deployment of options after brainstorming a list of possibilities, negotiators are better poised for a win-win situation.

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