!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Strict//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-strict.dtd"> Streamline Training & Documentation: Roger Fisher on Getting and Using Influence in Negotiations

Friday, October 03, 2008

Roger Fisher on Getting and Using Influence in Negotiations

To be able to approach a negotiation with maximum, realistic confidence of being able to hold your own, you need to scope out in advance all the sources of persuasive power you can bring to the interchange.

In a 1983 article (pdf, pp. 51-71), Roger Fisher, an emeritus professor of law at Harvard, describes six sources of negotiating power, which, in this context, he defines as the ability to influence others. Fisher advises tapping all these sources of power, and, generally speaking, doing so in the order shown below.1
  1. Skill and knowledge — You need interpersonal skills (e.g., the ability to listen), analytical skills, general knowledge (e.g., of cultural differences), and knowledge specific to the particular negotiation (most importantly, knowledge of the parties, of their respective interests, and of relevant facts).

  2. A good relationship — "The two most critical elements of a working relationship are, first, trust, and second, the ability to communicate easily and effectively."

  3. A good alternative to negotiation — As part of your preparation, identify the alternatives to reaching agreement with this particular negotiating partner, select whichever is most promising, and refine that alternative as fully as possible.

  4. An elegant solution — "The more complex the problem, the more influential an elegant answer."

  5. Legitimacy — You "can substantially enhance [your] negotiating power by searching for and developing various objective criteria and potential standards of legitimacy, and by shaping proposed solutions so that they are legitimate in the eyes of the other side."

  6. Commitment — An affirmative commitment is an offer of something you are willing to agree to, or an offer of what, failing agreement, you are willing to do under certain conditions.

    A negative commitment is an assertion that you are "unwilling to make certain agreements (even though they would be better for [you] than no agreement)," or a "threat that, failing agreement, [you] will engage in certain negative conduct (even though to do so would be worse for [you] than a simple absence of agreement).
Note that, contrary to some people's inclinations, the idea is to hold off on resorting to threats until you have attempted to reach a satisfactory outcome by tapping your other sources of negotiating power.

As Fisher puts it, "The earlier I make a negative commitment — the earlier I announce a take-it-or-leave-it position — the less likely I am to have maximized the cumulative total of the various elements of my negotiating power." Furthermore, there is the danger of getting caught up in a battle of back and forth threats, which is unlikely to be productive.

1 This post covers recommendations from Fisher that are more comprehensive than those discussed in a previous post that drew on suggestions offered by Fisher and co-author William Ury have in their classic book, Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In. Other posts focused on the how-to's of effective negotiation are here and here.