Issues, not positions

September 06, 2018

I believe honesty is a good approach to negotiation.

I was going to leave it at that, but realized that wasn't quite it: the winning recipe is honesty while focusing on the issues. I think I learned this lesson on my own, but Fisher and Ury have a much deeper analysis in their book. Everyone should read "Getting to Yes"; in case you haven't, I'll summarize the relevant part.

"Issues" are what you ultimately want: good value for money, to be respected, to have a house with lots of natural light.

"Positions" are how you're trying to get what you want—the substance of the deal. You'll pay $195,000 for the house with the skylight.

Inexperienced negotiators focus too much on positions and not enough on issues. They get hung up on the $195,000 (what's "on the page") when what the buyer actually wanted was "a good deal", even if it costs a little more. You said you wanted a skylight (a position) when the issue was really "natural light"; you'd be happy with a south-facing window, but that's not what you said.

All this confusion and wasted time would be avoided by greater focus on issues. Explain your issues, and give the other side the gift of your attention as they explain theirs. Start with the issues, and it will be a lot easier to reach consensus on the positions.

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