7 Elements of Negotiation

7 Elements of Negotiation

We all know that everyone negotiates. We all know that we have been negotiating since we were babies, the difference now compared to then is that as a baby, our method of negotiating was crying whereas hopefully now we have a few more tools in our mediator/negotiator toolbox.Every negotiation, according to Roger Fisher of Harvard’s Program on Negotiation, has seven distinguishable elements that are interconnected. They are:

1. Interests
2. Alternatives
3. Relationship
4. Options
5. Legitimacy
6. Communication
7. Commitment

As a negotiator, during your preparation (remember how important preparing is?), you can use these 7 elements to create your gameplan.

As a mediator, it is important to remember these as you can help the parties move forward, move from positions to interests, and keeping the 7 in mind, it helps move from stalemates (among many other positive uses).

Regardless of how you mediate or negotiate, the 7 elements are always present in negotiations. What changes is the importance of one over the other. An example is having your interests met in a particular negotiation might far outway the future relationship you will have with the other party

I am going to breakdown the 7 elements into seperate posts by day as a way to get you to keep coming back to my blog (wait, did I just think that or type it?!?).

Seriously, I am breaking it down element by element to keep the theme of my posts being quick reads, but after the seventh one, I will make a posting having all seven in one place for easier future references.


Negotiating based on interests has many positive attributes to it. But what does ‘interests’ mean?

  • I want him to pay me
  • I want the radio to stop being so loud
  • I want my money back

Guess what? Those are positions- not interests. The above are what you want to accomplish. To create a greater chance of a mutually beneficial agreement, negotiate on interests over postitions. When you negotiate on positions, both sides have a tendency to dig their heels in, get stuck in their thoughts, spend most of the negotiation defending their postition and attacking the others.

Interest based negotiationg on the otherhand creates more of a collaborative environment and expands your options. By doing this, its creates a win-win opportunity compared to the combative me versus you/win-lose situation.

Using the above listed examples of positions, possible interests behind them could include:

  • I feel like I was cheated and disrespected
  • I need my rest, I go to bed early because I work the early shift
  • I paid for a service that I feel I did not get and I am frustrated

Your interests represents your needs, hopes and concerns.

Ok, now you know your interests, so you think you are done right? Wrong, you are only halfway there. It is great you know your interests, but in order for the negotiation to get a successful outcome, the agreement must be beneficial to both parties. So yes, you guessed it, you have to figure out the other party’s interests too.

Figuring out their interests provides you with many benefits. For one thing, it prepares you on how they may or may not respond to your needs. Also, knowing their interests helps you find out what their alternatives are.

Part Two: Alternatives

Figuring out your interests allows you to figure out your BATNA and WATNA.

It’s ok if you are saying, “huh???”

BATNA and WATNA are acronyms for Best-Alternative-To-A-Negotiated-Agreement and Worst-Alternative-To-A-Negotiated-Agreement. You compare your alternative to the possible agreement that is on the table. You weigh your best alternative and worst alternative with the possible agreement and find out what is best for you. Actually, and this is very important, you need to find out what is best for you given the circumstances.

What do I mean? The agreement on the table might be better than your alternative, however in a perfect world, your alternative might be better. Confused? Read Part 4 and I promise that Options will explain it further.

You need to figure out what is best for you in the current situation by weighing it against your alternatives to getting an agreement. Figuring out your alternatives is key to your preparations for the negotiation.

Generally, you do not want to accept an agreement that is worse than your BATNA.

As is the case with finding interests, you also need to know your other party’s alternatives. Just like you will weigh your potential agreement against your alternative, they should do the same. If you are the mediator, this actually goes for the negotiator too, and a party to the negotiation does not know their alternative- help them! Yes, help them. As the mediator, you want to make sure your parties are informed.

There is a big a difference between giving advice and making sure they are aware of what will or will not happen if there is an agreement or lack of one. Raising awareness of the party’s alternatives, especially in stalemates can help generate movement.

As the other party/negotiator, a great way to get the other party/negotiator to move towards a possible agreement is to get them to see that their alternative to an agreement will leave them worse off than the offer on the table.

Part 3: Relationship

You have your interests figured out as well as your alternative. Both are two very important tasks to take care of during your preparations, as well as to remember during the negotiation. An important question to ask yourself before you begin your negotiation is, “How important is the relationship I have with the other party/negotiator/group they are representing?”

The value, or lack, of the relationship should determine such things like how hard will you press certain issues, how tough of a stand will you take, will you be more attacking or submissive, etc?

If the relationship will not exist after the negotiation concludes, you might not care how they feel or really be all to concerned with their emotions, right? Well, not really. Although you might not care as much compared to wanting to keep a relationship ongoing, I would still advise someone not to go into the negotiation ‘guns blazing’.

The first reason is personal. Maybe I might not care all to much what the other party thinks of me, but I do care what I think of me.


What I mean is I have control over me and only me in the negotiation. I do not want to resort to name calling or an all out offensive attack because that is not how I negotiate.

Additionally, consider your reputation. You might never interact with this person or group again, but keep in mind they might talk to other people in your field or market. When someone says, “your reputation precedes you,” you don’t want it to be for being a hothead, do you?

Losing the battle might help you win the war. Ok, first I really dislike referring to any mediation or negotiation to war, so this is a rarity but it fits. If maintaining the relationship is more important than this particular issue/conflict you are having, is it really worth damaging, possibly beyond the point of fixing? This is a very important question to ask yourself.

As a mediator, it is important to ask the parties how important the relationship is. By doing so you are playing the crucial role of reality testing to get them to consider the choices they might make and the future implications it will have.

Part 4: Options

You are now past the early stages of the negotiation/mediation. It is now time to generate some movement. When each side has expressed their interests, next you look at options. Options are the full spectrum of possible agreements. When brainstorming options, keep in mind that each option should meet the needs of both parties- not just you!let me mention a couple of key points to generating options:

  • Create first, evaluate second. List all options first, not leaving anything out. After all possible options have been listed, then go over each and determine if they meet each parties needs.
  • Write them down on paper or a board without giving credit to who said what. This helps move in the collaborative direction instead of confrontation. I find it useful to use the ‘mind map’ method to listing options. It is simple- you put the issue in the middle of the paper, and then draw out branches for each possible option. Some study somewhere says this helps the mind be creative… who knows, but it works for me.
  • Looking at options helps move away from the idea that there are only two options- i win or he/she wins. You are expanding the pie (of options) here.

Exploring options is key to mediation and negotiation. The simple reason is the parties get the satisfaction that they are taking ownership of the issue(s) and have a direct say in how it can possibly be resolved. It has been said many times times the process and method of handling the dispute is equally important to the participants as the issue itself.

Part 5: Legitimacy

How do you prove your offer or options are fair? How do you prove the other side’s offer is not fair? finding a neutral, external standard defines the legitimacy of the offers being made.

Ask yourself, how would such a deal be viewed by a third party?

If it is a money situation, is charging 9% the usual accepted rate? If it is a contract dispute, is it a commonly accepted practice to expect a deposit back? In the community mediation setting, do you expect the 3 year old child upstairs to stop stop moving, let alone running?

As a mediator, it helps at times being experienced, perhaps even a expert in the field you are mediating in. Although you are not determining the outcome, it could provide you insight into what open ended type questions to ask.

As the negotiator, knowing accepted standards will help solidify your offers, possibly lessen theirs, and even create a new option(s).

Part 6: Communication

I if had a personal mantra, it would be Communication, Understanding, Peace. For people to understand each other (no, i do not necessarily mean agree), there has to be a clear line of communication, that goes in each direction equally.

If you want more misunderstandings in life, don’t communicate… with anyone.

How else are we to understand each other, with all our beautiful differences, ranging from language to size to skin color, without communicating? It is impossible. Without communication and understanding, it is not possible to get peace. What I mean by peace is not the absence of violence or negative conflict but rather genuine peace- the kind that is built on the very first two words of the mantra- communication and understanding.

Communication in negotiation/mediation is one of your greatest tools. Depending on how you use it, it could be your best or worst tool. Communication ranges from what you say, how you say it, body movements, positioning, what you do not say, when and how you do not move and gestures.

The type of communication style you use greatly determines your negotiation style. Some quick tips for communicating effectively are:

  • Speak on your on behalf, not for others and assume what they feel/think.
  • Use “I” statements, “I feel frustrated when you missed the deadline because I then have to slow production down and stay later.” Call me crazy, but I think it will much work better compared to saying something like, “You are lazy and never meet deadlines.”
  • Listen actively. Don’t just wait for them to finish to get your counter-point in, but rather use empathy while the other is talking to try and fully understand their point of view.
  • Show you are listening. simple nodding might work.
  • Be relaxed. being stiff and rigid in posture can send the wrong message to the other party that you are not being open minded and not really giving them your attention.
  • it is fine to take notes, but do not scribble and write while looking down the entire time the other person is speaking.
  • Summarize and reflect. Remember, being a part of the process most times is equally important as the issues. Everyone wants to be able to speak and know that they are being heard. You can accomplish this by using such phrases as, “what it sounds like you are saying is…” and, “you seem angry because…”
  • Open ended questions. Using them is the best way to get more information, make sure you understand them, clarify the issues, and also as a way to deflect attacks.

Many books have been written on communication techniques and tips in negotiation and mediation. I highly suggest if you want to improve you communication style, you engage in further reading on this important topic.

Part 7: Commitment

Mission accomplished. As a negotiator, you closed a deal and you are better off. As the mediator, you helped both sides explore the issues and then find a suitable, acceptable option.

The last part of the of the seven elements should not be passed over or forgotten just because you are at the finish line or even feel you have already crossed it. Making sure the agreement reached is realistic and that both sides can keep their end of it is crucial to the process. If there is not a legitimate chance of either of the parties being able to be committed, they will just end up back at the mediation table or even in court.

The best example I can give is a mediation between a debt collection agency and the person who owes the debt. If the person owing the debt agrees to pay $1,000 a month to the agency, but also has to pay $800 in rent and takes in $1,800 a month in salary that would mean the person has no money left to eat… or do anything else for that matter!

What do you do as the mediator? A good tool out of the ‘mediator’s toolbox’ to use can be reality testing. Ask questions such as:

  • “Is this something you think you can stick with?”
  • “Given the situation, do you think that can be done?”
  • “Can you afford this on your salary?”
  • “Only you know if you can stick with this plan, what do you think?”
  • “Do you want to take a little time to think about it?”

The questions can also be asked to the other party as well:

  • “Is this something you think he/she can commit to?”
  • “What will happen if they do not hold up their end of the deal?”

These questions can help slow down or pause the negotiation to help everyone take a breath to see if the terms are something that each can stick with.

Remember, commitments are not only what people will do, but it can also state what they won’t do. Making sure both sides can commit to the agreement ensures that the time and effort everyone has dedicated to the mediation is not wasted by agreeing to something that is not realistic.

One Response to “7 Elements of Negotiation”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    Thanks for the detailed explainations! They really helped šŸ™‚

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