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Overview of Different Negotiation Philosophies

Many negotiation strategies have been developed over the years. Some differ from each other in a few major ways, but ultimately they all boil down to the same goal: getting the best deal possible. There's no right or wrong way to do it, but a lot of debate exists as to which approaches are more effective and which are more likely to burn you.

Adversarial and Collaborative

Most negotiation styles break down into two types: adversarial or collaborative. Adversarial negotiations are where one party attempts to "dominate" the other. They focus on reserving as much benefit for the dominator as possible. Collaborative bargaining focuses on how both parties can improve their respective positions, leading to mutual gain.

Adversarial negotiations can result in significant immediate gain when successful but can also lead to a breakdown in negotiations, foster bad will between parties, and lead to unjust contracts that may be challenged in court. As such, collaborative negotiations have become more popular, and many of the remaining philosophies discussed here incorporate some aspect of collaborative bargaining.

"I’m Only Asking for What's Fair"

For many, this strategy may be their default style without them even realizing it. Practitioners inform the counterparty that their demands are the industry standard, no different from what most others in their position are likely to ask for. This places the burden on the counterparty to explain why they might demand anything different from the standard. If the counterparty wants to carry ahead with an "unfair" demand, they need to offer something better than usual in return.

Getting to Yes

Possibly the most widespread strategy, this approach stems from Fisher and Ury's seminal contract negotiations book of the same name. It puts forth four main points:

  • Separate the people from the problem. Don't let emotions and personal differences get in the way of business issues.

  • Focus on interests, not positions. Positions come at the end. Starting negotiations by stating them may lead to a stalemate.

  • Generate several options. Don't restrict yourself to one single option, as that means failure is the only alternative.

  • Use objective criteria. Determine the objectively best criteria for success rather than relying on either side's subjective criteria.

These points help guide the parties toward collaboration even if they have directly opposed interests, which is likely why it's been so successful.


This simple strategy holds that parties need to focus on mutual gain in negotiations, working off a "give and take" approach. This requires each party to be content with giving something to the other party, knowing it ultimately results in a contract that benefits both. An advantage to this is that it keeps negotiations civil and maintains good relations between the parties afterward.


Not quite a philosophy, but instead a necessary practice, keeping your contracts organized and detailed is always important. Have a lawyer write or edit the contract, and use an easy PDF compressor, so the document displays with proper formatting on electronic devices and your counterparties can easily read it over, print it and sign.

Use Whatever Approach Works for You

When engaging in negotiations, use whichever strategy appeals to your business needs most and that seems to work well for your counterparties.

To get others' opinions on the best practices, try joining your local chamber of commerce.


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