Two men in suits participating in a positional negotiation sternly sitting across from each other
iStock/ fizkes

Negotiation: Creating Value

Want to create more shared value between yourself and your negotiation opponent? Discover how cognitive bias affects the judgment of others. Try this course from GLOBIS Unlimited to master the value of negotiation.

What’s the best way to ensure a fair agreement?

According to Roger Fisher and William Ury’s principled negotiation process, the answer is patience and understanding. That said, you may eventually find yourself in a David-and-Goliath situation in which your opponent refuses to compromise—a positional negotiation.

Learning how to stand your ground in response will help you thwart even the most stubborn negotiation opponents.

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What is a positional negotiation?

Positional negotiation (sometimes referred to as positional bargaining) is an effective way to level the playing field against stubborn business bullies. Telltale signs of a positional negotiation include the following:

Negotiation: Creating Value

Want to create more shared value between yourself and your negotiation opponent? Discover how cognitive bias affects the judgment of others. Try this course from GLOBIS Unlimited to master the value of negotiation.

  • A focus on “winning” or “losing”
  • An adversarial rather than collaborative tone to the conversation
  • An extreme position (like an impossibly high price) by one party
  • A primary concern by each party to meet their own needs
  • Threats and intimidation techniques

Sometimes, some or all of these factors are there from the start. But they may also emerge over time. After all, if your negotiation isn’t going anywhere, it can be frustrating. Taking a hard stance may be the right move, but you still need to be careful in your approach.

Why use positional negotiation?

Positional negotiation may be necessary in certain circumstances. In many situations, it’s an effective way to level the playing field against business bullies.

Here’s a breakdown of some situations where positional negotiation can serve you well.

When there’s an imbalance of power…

Those in positions of higher authority are often used to getting their way. This means that if one party holds significantly more power than the other, the less powerful party may be forced to make it clear they’re willing to walk away if there’s no room for compromise.

Say a manager from another department asks you to take on an additional project that’s outside your responsibilities. You explain that you don’t have the time, or that you’re not being paid for this additional work. If they ignore reason and insist, you might just need to say “no.”

When you need to get to the point…

Time is money, and like money, no one wants to waste their time. This is why sale situations often run into a “final offer” ultimatum. If it’s clear that your opponent is unwilling to compromise when there’s a pressing time factor, you may have to walk away.

Imagine you’re haggling over an item at a garage sale. The seller seems willing to play ball, but you’ve got places to be. In this case, throwing out a final offer and making it clear that you’re willing to walk away empty handed could provide the leverage you need to close the deal.

When the relationship isn’t salvageable…

No one wants to burn bridges, but sometimes, relationships just don’t survive. And not caring whether the other party walks away happy can give you an edge with positional negotiation.

If you’re selling a used car to your best friend, you may be willing to cut them a deal. But if the salesman at the local lot isn’t being reasonable, there’s no shame in digging in your heels. You may not leave the lot with a new friend, but you will leave knowing that you made the best deal you could, even if it’s no deal at all.

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Multiparty negotiation can be difficult to manage, but not impossible if you understand the stages and motivations of everyone at the table.
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3 Tips for Calmly Navigating a Positional Negotiation

Negotiating an agreement can often get heated, especially if there’s little compromise to be had. Here are a few negotiation strategies to maintain your composure.

Be empathetic.

In a positional negotiation, it’s easy to lose sight of the other person’s perspective. Put yourself in your opponent’s shoes and consider their motivations.

What do they want to achieve? Why might they feel that drawing a hard line in the sand is the best way to achieve it? You may think they’rebeing unreasonable, but empathy may help you appeal to their cause or, at the very least, stay calm.

Highlight the disadvantages of a communication breakdown.

Studies have shown that humans tend to fixate on loss more than gain. Your opponent may feel more inclined to be flexible if you highlight the disadvantages of refusing to find an agreement or maintain a positive long-term relationship.

Invite a mediator.

If all else fails, ask a mediator to join the negotiation. An objective third party will bring a fresh pair of eyes and ears into the negotiation.

They might be able to ease tensions by picking up on something you’re missing, like cultural barriers or miscommunications. Small misunderstandings can make or break deals, and mediators can provide objective interpretation.

Negotiation without conflict.

It’s great when all parties walk away from a negotiation feeling satisfied. But some types of negotiation are more challenging than others to navigate.

Understanding how to leverage positional negotiation techniques can help you to become a more well-rounded negotiator in some of the toughest situations.

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