Interest vs. Positional Negotiators: Which Type Are You?

Interest vs. Positional Negotiators: Which Type Are You?

Do you enter a negotiation to win or agree? Do you think of it as a competition or a conversation? Are you focused solely on results or on maintaining healthy relationships too? Find out if you’re the type of negotiator you need to be to achieve success in today’s corporate environment.

“Negotiating is a skill that can be learned. Despite that, most North Americans tend to be lousy negotiators. While it may be the least understood form of human communication, negotiating is a skill, an attitude and an approach to life that can determine your prosperity and the quality of your life as well as the lives of the important people on whom you count for your happiness.” – – Jim Murray

Organizational Empowerment – Then and Now

The world doesn’t look like what it did years ago. Rapidly changing technologies, dynamic market movements and uninhibited access to information create a work environment in which organizations – and their employees – must be able to make fast decisions for the betterment of their companies.

In the past, organizations were characterized by a large gap between authority and autonomy whereas today’s nimble companies are more empowered, decentralized and autonomous right down to the frontline.

Why Are Today’s Organizations More Empowered?

The movement towards organizational and employee empowerment is based on the need for:

  • Recognition
  • Involvement
  • A sense of worth (a strong need for both individuals and organizations to be valued and consulted)

Empowerment is a gradual process of facilitation, rather than control. It is a concept of cooperation and collaboration, rather than competition and coercion. It takes a mutual problem orientation – in other words, an attitude of “doing it with”, not to, or for.

To operate successfully in this empowered time of fast change, continual transformation and intensified competition, business professionals must be able to handle a variety of situations and uncertainties that create conflicting interests.

So What’s the Best Way to Deal With It?

Negotiation is the most effective method to resolve conflicting interests in a cooperative and collaborative manner.

As organizations evolve, employees are selected more carefully. Since today’s companies rely heavily on collaborative efforts, where do you think the pressure lies? It’s on individuals with technical and interpersonal skills and managers with the ability to mentor and support the development of others.

To survive and prosper in a collaborative, yet intensely competitive business environment, individual contributors, managers and executives must hone their relating and negotiating skills to translate commitment into action.

Negotiation is a Game

Combine the best elements of collaboration and competition, pure bargaining and problem solving, and put them on a playing field lined by tension, anxiety and uncertainty.

What do you have?

A game of negotiation.

To a great extent, this game can be controlled or managed to improve your results, especially in high impact interactions (high risk, high reward) and do it in a way that enhances relationships

What is Successful/Effective Negotiating?

“Any method of negotiation may be fairly judged by three criteria: It should produce a wise agreement if agreement is possible. It should be efficient. And it should improve or at least not damage the relationship between the parties.” – – Roger Fisher

While many of us are only just realizing the importance of negotiation in our daily work environments never mind educating ourselves on how to be better at it, some professionals are already highly successful/effective negotiators.

So just what defines “successful/effective negotiating”?

  1. It is a requisite skill for an empowered, decentralized and autonomous organization.
  1. It is about patience. Advantage always goes to the patient negotiator who persistently pursues creative win/win solutions.
  1. It is about persistence. Progress is frequently in small increments. Impatient negotiators who lack persistence often leave potential results on the table and frequently make costly mistakes.
  1. It is about planning. Negotiation is a dynamic process with many moving parts; all of them negotiable. You must expect the unexpected and plan accordingly.
  1. It has no best strategy: what works well in one situation might completely inappropriate in another.
  1. It is about results (success), but also about relationship (effectiveness). How you conduct yourself in a negotiation can have a significant impact on both the short and long term.
  1. It is about conflicting points of view and expectations. Both must be clarified and changed in order to reach a mutually acceptable conclusion.
  1. It is a process of competition, collaboration and compromise through which each party satisfies his/her interests (needs/priorities) at the lowest cost to each other. Winning in negotiation does not require someone to lose.
  1. It is about movement. If one approach results in a stalemate, adopt another. There is nothing worse for a successful/effective negotiator than walking away from a deal or agreement that was makeable. You will never lose a negotiation using the ideas you are about to explore, unless you capitulate.

“Negotiation isn’t about business or about money; negotiation is fundamentally about human interaction. The basic question we’re trying to figure out is how do we engage with other human beings in a way that helps create better understandings and agreements.”  

Let’s Break it Down…

There are two basic approaches to negotiation. Both depend heavily on the relationship requirements of the outcome. If the current or future relationship is not important and you are concerned only with the result, focus on positional negotiating. If, on the other hand, you are concerned with both results and relationship, focus on interest negotiating.

Positional Negotiation (Commonly Referred to as Distributive or Competitive Negotiation)

Positional negotiators are highly competitive and focus exclusively on the satisfaction of their own needs without regard for the needs of their counterpart. Their approach may appear pleasant but their tactics are not. They essentially employ a manipulative approach designed to intimidate with unreasonable demands, threats, constant pressure and offering concessions only when absolutely necessary. They view the other party as an opponent or adversary. Current or future relationship is not deemed important and is often damaged during the negotiation. Their attitude is win/lose. Their goal is victory, not agreement.

The man who says he is willing to meet you halfway is usually a poor judge of distance. Laurence J. Peter

Interest-Based Negotiation (Commonly Referred to as Integrative, Problem Solving or Collaborative Negotiation)

Interest negotiators have regard for the interests (needs/priorities) and preferences (positions) of the other party. In other words, they establish a mutual problem orientation. This is the essence of interest negotiating. Those who practice it ask themselves the question, “What does the other side really want and why?” Then they attempt to find creative ways to satisfy the interests (needs/priorities) of each party at the lowest cost to each other – a side-by-side as opposed to an adversarial approach. They view their counterpart as a partner rather than as an opponent. Current or future relationship is deemed important and can be enhanced during the negotiation process. Their attitude is win/win. Their goal is a mutually acceptable agreement that satisfies the interests (needs/priorities) of both parties at the lowest cost to each.

The key to finding win-win-win solutions that serve everyone is to be able to change the game from taking to giving. Taking, which means claiming value only for yourself, and giving, which means creating value for others – not just yourself. – –  William Ury

Which Type of Negotiating is Used Most Often in Real-Life Scenarios?

A negotiator must know how to cooperate but also how to compete. There is a balance that must be achieved. Chester L. Karrass

Successful/Effective negotiators have the knowledge, experience and skills to be both positional (competitive) or interest (collaborative) negotiators depending on their counterpart’s approach and the issues being negotiated. In many negotiations, they find the interest approach best on many of the issues but a positional approach necessary on others. In today’s empowered corporate landscape, it is interest not positional negotiating that successful/effective (win/win) negotiators focus on.

Your ability to negotiate, communicate, influence, and persuade others to do things is absolutely indispensable to everything you accomplish in life. The most effective men and women in every area are those who can quite competently organize the cooperation and assistance of other people toward the accomplishment of important goals and objectives. Brian Tracy


  1. Reply

    effective negotiating is an art. By negotiating you can get a better deal.

    Thanks for sharing this useful post.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *