From the time we first learn to communicate, all human beings engage in negotiation as an integral part of our daily lives and interactions. The process takes place family, social, business, recreation and numerous other settings in all our lives. It is a complex process that we usually take for granted and often don’t perform well. It is governed by factors such as ‘power’, ‘need’, ‘time constraints’, ‘resources’, ‘consequences’ ‘relationships’ and ‘emotion’.

The sophistication of the negotiation increases from when as children, we first start expressing our wants and needs to our parents through our primitive actions such as crying. From there we progress to talking and then engaging through spoken and written words to achieve our aims. We engage with family, friends, colleagues and work mates, as well as competitors and advisors.

Analysis of negotiation processes has discovered that we generally approach any negotiation issue with fixed or preconceived views based on our assessment of our ‘position’ relative to that of the other party. This is often called ‘positional bargaining’.

It is also often difficult to discern the real nature of the problem when personalities and emotion cloud the issues and hinder objectivity.

If our respective bargaining positions are marked ‘x’ and ‘y’ and connected by a straight line, ‘settlement’ or ‘agreement’ frequently occurs near the mid-point of the line, depending on the relative bargaining strengths of the parties. While such settlements are usually seen as ‘fair’ they often don’t work particularly well for either party!

What if there was another way to resolve our disputes? Well, there is! It is called ‘principled negotiation’. In this process, the discussion centres more on the ‘needs and interests’ of the parties rather than their respective positions. The needs and interests are the real reasons behind the positions that underpin them.

Principled negotiation also helps the parties ‘separate the people from the problem’ in a way that removes blame and brings greater clarity to the real issues.

By mutually engaging in a more open, honest and transparent process, greater trust is created, and the way becomes clear for more creative solutions which better suit the parties real needs and interests.
The same thinking and approach that is the hallmark of ‘principled negotiation’ is equally applicable to most other aspects of ADR.