Fisher and Ury begin their seminal work, Getting to Yes, by stating the problem: positional bargaining.

According to them, generally, if not universally, negotiators err in engaging in “positional bargaining”.

What is positional bargaining?

“Each side takes a position, argues for it, and makes concessions to reach a compromise.” (p. 3)

F&U offer a method to avoid that error.

But, first, the indictment:

Positional bargaining (1) produces “unwise agreements”, (2) is inefficient, (3) endangers ongoing relationships, and (4) becomes more unworkable as the number of parties increase.

If you think that “being nice” is the solution, according to them, sorry; that doesn’t cure it.

Whether you are a “hard” positional bargainer, or a “soft” one, you are still an unsophisticated bumpkin-like screw-up as a negotiator if you engage in positional bargaining.

They describe their solution as a “meta-game”.

“If you do not like the choice between hard and soft positional bargaining, you can change the game. The game of negotiation takes place at two levels. At one level, negotiation addresses the substance; at another, it focuses – usually implicitly – on the procedure for dealing with the substance.” (emphasis supplied)

They call their solution to this problem “principled negotiation” or “negotiation on the merits” (a phrase that I have never heard an actual person, as opposed to a book, use).

As Bob Cialdini points out in “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion,” we all weaken in the face of authority, and these guys are from Harvard …

And, so, Roger and Bill stabbed a nail into the coffin of the time-honored ritual of what they call “positional bargaining”; negotiation geeks since understand that underlying motivations for the “position” are all-important.




But, is positional bargaining as guilty as alleged?

In my world, it is almost exclusively the way negotiators work.

If I were training negotiators, I would train them first in positional bargaining, as a survival skill, if nothing else.

If positional bargaining is so wrong, then, why do so many people persist in doing it?

Could it be that positional bargaining has utility that the folks at Harvard can’t appreciate?

To be continued …