Whilst we like to think that negotiation can lead to a happy conclusion, one that is beneficial to both parties ‘win-win negotiation’ is not always the outcome.  Adversarial negotiation, typically termed positional negotiation is one where the process is looked upon as win-lose – or where one party undertakes losses as part of the negotiation exercise.

A good example of positional negotiation is when you buy a car or are attempting to negotiate the price of any ‘major purchase’.  In the role of the buyer you are trying to negotiate the lowest possible price, however to do this you will eat into the profits of the sales company – the role of the sales person is to achieve the maximum price to the detriment of the buyer.

In this form of adversarial debate positional negotiators can vary in terms of how far, and how quickly they are willing to budge.  If we take the example of the car salesman for example the likelihood is that this negotiation will not be as demanding as a trade union discussion over employee rights – this difference is termed hard and soft bargaining.  Soft bargaining can see concessions made quickly in order to close the deal whereas hard bargaining can be uncompromising and challenging.

Positional Negotiation can become extremely competitive; we’re all loss averse by our nature, and unfortunately in some cases personal.  We’ve all seen reports on the TV news covering major negotiations (be they trade union or international for example)  Where one side has a point to prove they are not usually afraid of using derogatory remarks in order to garner sympathy, support and ultimately influencing the sources of power.

One of the byproducts of positional negotiation, especially where the desired outcomes of those around the table are very different is that it can result in discussion deadlock.  This is where concessions and agreement do not appear and it becomes a situation of stalemate where agreement cannot be reached.  This can be very draining and difficult to navigate through.  Deadlock can fuel animosity and make an already bad position worse – in these cases – 3rd parties or mediators are often used to help develop alternative approaches upon which both parties can reach agreement.

Uncompromising positional negotiation can be a tremendously difficult problem to solve especially where the stakes have a personal worth.  It can sometimes feel like a game of chicken where’ your waiting for who will blink first.  It’s worth pointing out the importance of developing what your prepared to walk away with if negotiation fails and certainly one should avoid getting caught up in the ‘game’ just for the sake of being competitive – finally if your faced with confrontation negotiation and you’ll looking for a way forward take a step back and review what alternatives might exist to the goals both you and your opponent are seeking – could things be done in a different way – could different concessions be made to deliver a solution?