What Is Principled Negotiation & When To Use It

We understand that conducting contract negotiations can be overwhelming at times. Emotions can run high, and one party may feel as though their ideas are not being heard. Learning to approach talks in a more positive way, using principled negotiation, will help to avoid conflict. When you are at the negotiating table and you see there are options for you both to get what you want, it’s an ideal time to use principled negotiation. Principled negotiation is about coming to a solution or finding a deal that will benefit all parties involved.


The Definition of Principled Negotiation

What is principled negotiation? Principled negotiation,  also known as principled bargaining, is an approach that resolves disagreements between parties. It is also referred to as a “win-win” outcome. It focuses on bettering the interests of everyone and finding solutions that are mutually beneficial. Principled negotiation can help people achieve objectives and satisfy expectations by removing the “all-or-nothing” attitude. Consider these guidelines to ensure your negotiations go as smoothly as possible.


Separate Emotions from the Problem

Sometimes, emotions can cloud negotiations. It is common to let human emotion get in the way of effective negotiation. If you feel as though you are at a disadvantage, you may react defensively. During any mediation, it’s important to maintain composure and not be influenced by fear or anger. Emotions like defensiveness can cause miscommunications which can lead to the negotiation falling apart. Principled negotiation draws on principles instead of opinions, thus helping take the human emotion aspect out of negotiation. Principled negotiation helps you see each other as partners and will help keep the lines of communication open between parties.


What Is Most Important?

One challenge in negotiation is that each party usually focuses on their interests first and foremost. Instead of focusing on winning your position, start by discussing common interests you share and specific details of agreement during negotiations. By focusing on these common interests, relationships can be built that will help you in your negotiation of finding a “win-win” solution. From there, identify the interests of each party. Each party should have an open discussion on what interests them. You may discover that the underlying motivations of both parties are similar and will allow you to stay focused on the solutions instead of the problems.


Use Objective Criteria

If there is a strong conflict between the parties, using objective criteria may be useful. Objective criteria can include scientific evidence, legal rulings, industry standards, and cost estimates. For example, if purchasing property is under negotiation, presenting the market value of comparable properties in the area will validate the price. The goal is to establish a fair outcome.


Make Options Available

For effective principled negotiation, it is important to think beyond having only one avenue for settling conflicts. Instead, generate diverse options to reach solutions. During brainstorming sessions, propose ideas that will offer mutual gain and refrain from judging. Consider ideas that are more important and more widely used. Begin with the most promising ideas and don’t get hung up on small discrepancies. Keeping an open mind to all ideas presented is key and prevents hindering the negotiations. When both parties bring ideas to the table and generate a variety of ideas, neither party will feel like it is a “win-lose” situation and will help promote the idea of a “win-win” scenario. This will help both parties feel like they were listened to and their ideas considered.


Avoid Pressure

Again, a win-win situation is the ideal for principled negotiations. Deny the temptation to pressure the other party to accept your terms. Pressure from either side is considered a power tactic and will only encourage emotion to get in the way of effective communication. The great thing about principled negotiation is that it works even if you’re the only one practicing it. If the other party does not use principled negotiating, its tools still have power at the negotiating table. Instead of responding to attacks, redirect to solve the problem. Do not take it as a defeat if you need to walk away from a mediation.

However, no one should walk about from the negotiations feeling as though they had to make a sacrifice. As stated previously, the goal is to come up with a solution that makes both parties satisfied. Principled negotiations won’t work for every situation. Scenarios that may not be a good fit for principled negotiation are:

  • When one party is set on winning at the other party’s expense.
  • When negotiating for inexpensive, widely available products that do not have a significant role in business.

Keep in mind: with proper principled negotiation tactics in place, both parties can get what they want – a win-win and a desirable outcome for all.

When Is Principled Negotiation Effective?

Principled negotiation is effective in a wide range of situations, especially when the focus is on building long-term relationships, finding creative solutions, and maximizing mutual benefits. This approach is most suitable when the parties involved have complex and diverse interests, and there is a desire to understand each other’s needs and concerns fully. Principled negotiation emphasizes open communication, active listening, and a collaborative spirit to explore various options and generate innovative solutions that address the underlying interests of all parties. It is particularly valuable in resolving conflicts, as it fosters a problem-solving mindset and encourages cooperation over competition.

Overall, principled negotiation is effective in situations where the parties seek to create value together, maintain positive working relationships, and find solutions that go beyond simple compromises to achieve the best possible outcome for all involved.

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