is win-win possible?

[From Bruce Nevin (2000.10.25. EDT)]

Bill Curry (2000.10.20.1000 EDT)–

I would take issue with your phrase “less than” because

it depicts conflict negotiation as an inevitable win-lose process.

Rick Marken (2000.10.21.1830)–

Actually, it depicts conflict negotiation as an inevitable lose-

lose proposition. A successful negotiation is one where both

parties end up with an acceptable level of net loss …

Rick Marken (2000.10.20.0945)–

An interpersonal conflict can only be solved by negotiation if

some or all parties to the conflict are willing to get something

less than exactly the perceptions they wanted at the start of

the negotiation.

This happens when negotiators bargain over positions. “Each side takes a position, argues for it, and makes concessions to reach a compromise” (Fisher & Ury, p. 3).

It is not a necessary outcome of negotiation. A “principled negotiation” results from controlling the principles identified by the Harvard Negotiation Project. The first principle they mention is “Don’t bargain over positions” because (p. 5) “As more attention is paid to positions, less attention is devoted to meeting the underlying concerns of the parties.” The resulting agreements are unwise, that is, they are not “carefully crafted to meet the legitimate interests of the parties.” Arguing over positions is inefficient and time consuming and it endangers an ongoing relationship.

Some of the other principles are:

  • Separate the people from the problem.

  • Invent options for mutual gain.

  • Insist on using objective criteria.

  • If they are more powerful, develop your best alternative to a negotiated agreement (BATNA).

(Most of the functions of the BATNA have nothing to do with threat. The BATNA gives you an escape route; knowing it, you can negotiate more confidently. It gives a standard against which to measure any proposed agreement. They describe other benefits of developing your BATNA. You do not disclose it to the other person if it is worse for you than they think your alternatives to negotiation are. Usually disclosing the BATNA does not amount to threat, beyond the mere threat of breaking off negotiations.)

some or all parties to the conflict are willing to get less

Not less, different. At least one party to the conflict is willing to control a different variable from the variable that they controlled at the start of the negotiation. (Even if they were to control the same variable, a different reference value is not necessarily less. Equating “less” with “more net error” is sophistry.) If you insist on a particular position, different feels like less. If you focus on the reasons behind the position (or the reasons behind those reasons), there’s always more than one way to get there.

“win-win” is a misleading way to

describe the results of a successful negotiation (Simon’s term

“satisficing” would be better).

Suppose that win-win results are not possible – one possible belief that could be behind this position.

There is a method of arms-control negotiation that is related to “I cut, you choose.” Each side looks at their own array of weapons and assigns a value to each weapon or category of weapons. Each side looks at the other side’s array of weapons and assigns a value to each. These valuations are not disclosed. The key is that the value assigned by one side to a given item is not the same as the value assigned by the other side.

I’m extremely unwilling to give up my T-237 rockets in Uzbekistan, but you don’t care about them nearly so much as you care about your Trident missiles on subs. They’re much more important to you than your Nike sites in Germany, which are a thorn in my side, and anyway I’m convinced I’ve got your subs effectively shadowed. You worry a lot about my SS-43 field tactical nukes, which I am reluctant to deploy for various internal reasons, so they’re not all that much good to me. (I’m making this up, of course, and simplifying.)

my resource my value your value your resource

T-237 9 6

            5               10              Trident

            10              2               Nike

SS-43 3 10

Negotiation proceeds by very small steps.

What do you want for 5% of your SS-43s?

How about 10% of those Nike sites?

Hmm. 5%?



I’m making up the details, of course, and simplifying greatly. The procedure was developed by a mathematician named Gray (I think) in the late '80s or early '90s. I can dig out a reference, if you like. It gives a clear and well-defined case of win-win because both sides come out of the exchange feeling that they have won an advantage over the other. In the drawn-out process of negotiation they reach agreement at a fairly close approximation to parity when multiply their respective valuations by the quantities exchanged. But in their own terms, each has in fact achieved an advantage over the other. And that is no illusion, it is a direct expression of their own valuations.

So a win-win outcome of negotiation is possible.

The important point is that some strategies of negotiation (such as Gray’s “I cut, you choose”, and such as inventing options for mutual gain as part of principled negotiation) are likely to result in win-win outcomes, and others (such as the very common strategies based on arguing over positions) are extremely likely to result in compromise and “giving in”.

“win-win” is an outright deception when used to describe

the results of the Tom/IA negotiation described by Fisher

and Ury, which was actually “win-lose”.

It looks like your view of “the Tom/IA negotiation” is as follows:

  • The interpersonal conflict was over the dollar amount. The IA wanted as close to $3,300 as he could get, Tom wanted as much as he could get.

  • The change first to $3,500 and then to $4,000+ constituted the IA’s compromises, his “giving in” to Tom.

  • The IA continued to control “Pay $3,300” (or maybe “pay as little as possible, starting at $3,300”). He did not change to controlling “replace Tom’s car”.

  • Tom was not controlling “replace my car” as he said he was. That’s a deception. Instead, he was controlling “get as much as I can”.

  • Fisher and Ury are deceiving us when they say that Tom was controlling “replace my car”, that the IA agreed with Tom that the purpose of the interaction was to replace Tom’s car, and that he stopped controlling “pay $3,300” so as to control “replace Tom’s car”.

Which of these statements are not part of your view of “the Tom/IA negotiation”?

    Bruce Nevin

At 09:42 AM 10/20/2000 -0700, Richard S. Marken wrote: