Negotiation Styles and Techniques - BATNA / Positional Bargaining - Sample Role Play

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Negotiation Styles and Techniques (BATNA / Positional Bargaining) – Sample Role Play

The aim of a negotiation process is to reach an agreement by conducting interviews and meetings, in order to discuss the participants’ respective points of view. More fundamentally, negotiation is part of our everyday life and even represents a key-element in our social interactions.

In an organizational context, the command of some of its mechanisms is crucial when dealing with both internal and external partners. This is particularly true in the area of Human Resources - when negotiating a rise in wages, for example.

Oftentimes, negotiation simply consists in successively adopting and then abandoning a series of positions. In this case, we speak of positional bargaining, in which the negotiator may either adopt a soft or a hard approach.

The concept of "principled negotiation" has been pioneered by R. Fisher and W. Ury in their best-selling classic "Getting to Yes". This approach provides an alternative to positional bargaining (illustration), the aim of which is to generate win-win solutions. They put an emphasis on the need for closely considering the respective interests of the different parties involved and trying to satisfy them (we speak of "interest-based negotiation").


In addition to the use of personal skills such as assertiveness, active listening, etc., it is highly recommended to determine one’s BATNA (Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement), a concept that corresponds to the best available solution made available to us in the absence of a negotiated agreement with the other party.

Indeed, the very reason why we get into negotiations is to achieve better results than what could be expected without going into this process. We should thus set a non-negotiable threshold below which we will not go. It is also highly recommended to set an "alarm signal", i.e. to define the last acceptable solution before our BATNA is reached.

It may thus prove useful to dedicate one’s knowledge, time, money, relations and imagination to the search for alternative solutions. Obviously, the more we feel capable of stepping out of the negotiation process, the greater our ability to weigh on its outcome.

The notion of BATNA moreover allows introducing the notion of Zone of Possible Agreement (ZOPA) which refers to the range that lies between the minima acceptable by each party. It is indeed useful to be aware of the fact that this zone can be of variable width – and that it even may not exist at all!


Once the BATNA has been determined, we can try to identify the interests of the different parties, i.e. the preoccupations, needs, fears and desires that underlie their respective positions. The proposals that are formulated by every party with the aim of satisfying their own interests are to be the explored; the aim here is to reach an agreement that may be satisfactory for everyone, and to do so in an efficient and friendly way.

The annexed document provides you with a sample interest-based negotiation process (illustration). All along this process, it is important to remember that principled negotiation is based on the 4 following principles:

1. Separate problems and people: We should attack problems, not persons, so as to try preserving the relationship, if possible. We should thus avoid suspecting the other party of entertaining bad intentions without well-grounded reasons. This state of mind implies both the ability to listen to others and to acknowledge and express one’s own feelings. The use of communication tools such as active listening (definition) may thus strongly support this approach.

2. Focus on interests, not on positions: This idea is about defusing situations in which we are confronted to another party’s obstinate refusal to cooperate. In this case, we should try to make as many offers as possible and to discover the partners’ hidden interests, for instance by questioning them on the reasons for their refusal and on their demands ("why…?", "why not…?").

3. Generate as many options as possible: We should take the time to cautiously examine the other parties’ proposals, so as to work out a solution that is as integrative as possible. This approach may consist, among other things, in avoiding premature judgment and in not limiting our possibilities of action by assuming that there is a single answer, or that its benefits cannot exceed a certain level.

4. Insist on using objective assessment criteria: We should jointly determine with our partners, the precise criteria that will allow evaluating the gains achieved and concessions made by the different parties. This implies understanding the interests of the other parties, and acknowledging their legitimacy.


The aim of the following negotiation role-play (sample) is to help you get more familiar with the interest-based negotiation process introduced above.


Finally, we would like to draw your attention on certain "dirty" negotiation tactics that are sometimes used to destabilize the other side:

  • making threats and other aggressive behaviors
  • raising the stakes (showing intransigence towards the other party and demanding that they make ever greater concessions)
  • rupture (doing as if one were about to step out of the negotiation process – making "take-it-or-leave-it" offers)
  • creating uncertainty and using it to hint at a probable outcome
  • persuasion et argumentation (trying to show the other party that it would be in their interest to give in to certain demands)
  • seduction (presenting some of one’s interests as belonging to the other party)
  • accommodation (postponing the discussion of delicate matters)
  • making successive offers and counter-offers
  • exploiting interpersonal relations (difference in status, friendship, mutual esteem, habit of working together…)
  • etc.

In such cases, the use of assertivenes and conflict management tools and techniques (Personal Development Tools) can prove helpful.

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