Are you negotiating or just haggling?

I recently came across post on LinkedIn where a father was proudly demonstrating how he’d been teaching his son to negotiate. The discussion went like this:


I noticed this post because it reflects the version of negotiation that many people seem to adopt. Every extra chocolate chip the son got was a “loss” for the father and a "win” for the son – and vice versa. There was definitely no room for the fabled win-win outcome.


The reason for this situation was that the father was looking at the negotiation on a single dimension. There was a single pool of resources (chocolate chips in this case) and it had to be split between the parties.


As we see in cases like this, the parties tend to start with an offer that is favourable to them. I imagine that the father here thought that 10 chocolate chips was a pretty insignificant number. The son comes back with an offer favourable to him - 20 chocolate chips is probably a good handful.


From these two opening offers, both father and son make small concessions until they reach agreement at the mid-point of their two opening offers. In fact, this is right in line with the research that tells us this splitting of the difference is the usual outcome of a single variable negotiation.


What we have just seen is an example of distributive negotiation. Distributive negotiation is based on the idea that there is a fixed resource (often money rather than chocolate chips!). After the negotiation concludes, one party will have more of the resource and the other party will have less. The process of getting to an outcome often looks like a simple haggle with random concessions made by each party without explanation.


Integrative negotiation is a different style of negotiation. It seeks to expand the amount of resources that can be brought to the equation. Rather than simply looking at one resource (for example, money) it may consider a range of other factors(for example, timing, duration, certainty). This is often described as "growing the pie" so that there are more resources to be shared by both parties.


Integrative negotiation requires the parties to learn more about each others interests. The skill of questioning is critical alongside a mindset of curiosity. And it is also important to share with the other negotiators the things that you care about. In a distributive negotiation you are more likely to hide these in case they are used against you.


So let’s have a look at how this well intentioned father could have taught his son a lesson in integrative negotiation.


Father: Why do you want the choc chips?


Son: Because I’m hungry.


Father: Why choc chips rather than an apple or a cookie?


Son: Because choc chips are yummy.


Father: I agree. They are tasty but they are not very healthy. I would prefer to see you eat something a little more nutritious. And if you are hungry, I’m wondering if they will fill you up enough.


Son: You’re right – they won’t fill me up that much. But I still want them.


Father: So you want to fill your hunger and eat something tasty. I also want you to fill your hunger but prefer you to eat something healthy. How about if you were to eat an apple to fill you up and then you could have ten choc chips as a treat. Otherwise, if you don’t want to eat the apple, you can have five choc chips.


Son: Ok Dad. I’ll eat the apple and then have ten choc chips.



Chocolate chips

Now, while this conversation may seem a little too easy (I’m sure it would take me longer to convince my children and there would probably be more whining) it illustrates that by asking a few more questions we can have a better quality dialogue and work towards an outcome that is better than a mere splitting of the difference.


So, next time you find yourself in a negotiation, what questions will you ask to create more value?

For more information about how to negotiate effectively, or for assistance with your next negotiation, contact us for a confidential, no-obligation discussion.



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