Negotiation 101: Grow the Pie

Lessons from Getting to Yes on how “growing the pie” helps bypass the pitfalls of distributive bargaining and make negotiations turn out better for all

Approaching a high-stakes negotiation can feel like preparing for battle. We arm ourselves with logic, pathos, data, and even threats to fight for our share.

But, more often than most of us realize, negotiations don’t have to be adversarial “us vs. them” encounters. Though the impulse to approach the table clinging ferociously to your piece of the pie is strong—Fisher and Ury claim it’s often unnecessary, and even counter productive.

The first step to getting past the impulse is to let go of the notion that every gain for “them” is a loss for “us,” something researchers term the distributive mindset. Some negotiations are inherently distributive—that is, the resource being divided is finite and fundamentally un-shareable.

But Fisher and Ury suggest that efforts to “grow the pie,” help negotiations turn out better for all involved.

Here are some ways to try:

  • Capitalize on complements. Assign concrete values/weights to each issue from your own perspective and take a shot at the same from the other party’s point of view. Complementary issues (really important to the other party, less so for you) allow you to make generous concessions and encourage reciprocity.
  • Bring more to the table. Look for something of potential value to your negotiation partner that you could offer at little cost to yourself. Offering un-asked-for value can create powerful goodwill and swing things your way on the more controversial issues.
  • Present packages. To avoid the trap of battling it out issue-by-issue, take the time to craft several potentially agreeable resolutions in advance. These sets should highlight trade-offs and push the other party to decide what’s most important and let go of less critical issues.
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