We are all familiar with the process of negotiation: We have each been engaging in negotiations since we were young children asking to stay up just five more minutes before going to bed. However, despite the fact that by the time that we are adults we have each engaged in probably thousands of negotiations, few people have ever stopped to analyze exactly what goes on in a negotiation. This paper examines the steps of a negotiation that I myself was involved in. This negotiation centered on a vacation that I was trying to arrange with a small group of friends. The following analysis lays out the steps that are followed in a negotiation regardless of whether the topic is intrinsically inconsequential or momentarily serious.
Goals and Aspirations
The overall goal of this negotiation was to plan for a vacation for five friends that would fit into the schedules of all five individuals and would also be affordable to each one of us.
The negotiation began when my friend A called to suggest that he and I along with three other friends (from different states) would take a one-week vacation in September in San Diego. The next level of the negotiation occurred when A and I emailed the other three friends. This prompted a two-week process that encompassed more than 15 emails and three conference calls as we attempted to close the distance among us on the key negotiation issues, which were the following:
Timing: A and I preferred the first week of September, while B. And D. were voting for the last week of August and D. had no preference in terms of the timing of the trip.
Location: B, D, and I wanted to go to San Diego, C wanted to go to Orlando, and D. wanted to go to France or some other European country.
Budget: D. is the best off financially and likes luxurious accommodation, and so was willing to spend quite a lot for a vacation. C and I wanted a nice vacation, but we did not want to pay as much as D. was willing to. A and C. are very conservative with their money and were looking to pay as little as possible for a decent vacation.
Legwork: Each one of us (it turns out) believes that he is more organized than the other four. This came to light when the five of us were discussing who work make the arrangements -- finding out which hotels best matched our requirements, deciding whether or not to rent a car, etc. An additional complication to the arrangements is the fact that D. has medication that needs to stay at a constant, cool temperature, which he argued meant that only he was capable of making the arrangements. The other four of us were afraid that this would result in his selecting a hotel, etc. That the rest of us could not afford.
Finally, we had to agree on how much contact with the "real world" we would allow. Mostly this came down to deciding whether or not we could check in with work or do any work while we were on vacation. C and D. wanted to bring "just a small amount of work along" while the other three of us wanted a "no work" policy. This initial discussion can be seen as an elucidation of otherwise implicit normative assumptions or a stage of creating commonly held definitions.
As soon as we began the negotiations we decided that this was an all-or-nothing venture so our BANTA (Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement) was no vacation at all. This provided a distinct incentive to have the negotiations go well since we all did want to go on vacation with each other and because the distance between a vacation and no vacation is a large one. However, it is quite often the case that even when the BANTA is not at all appealing that all of the negotiators will still walk away, no doubt influenced in many cases by their desire not to lose face.
The reservation point for this negotiation (that is, the point at which the BATNA is a preferable alternative either to beginning or continuing a negotiation) is $1,200. (The reservation point can also conceptualized as the point beyond which a party will not go.) This was an essential part of my negotiating stance going into the process. I also entered the negotiation with the belief that it could be conducted with relative ease and equanimity. The BANTA was also conceptualized in terms of time: Ten days or fewer including travel days.
Process of negotiation
The negotiation process did indeed begin smoothly, with short, unambiguous questions and replies circulating among us. However, as it became increasingly clear that we were assuming points of agreement that were not in fact in existence. Once it became clear that we were not communicating as well as we would like we decided to have our first conference call. We hoped that shifting the medium of communication would reduce the amount of heat in the negotiations. Email often increases the degree of miscommunication while simultaneously increasing the level of irritation (or worse) with others because their communications can be seen as willful attempts to stymie the other negotiators.
One of the steps that I took whenever emails seemed to be doing significant harm to the process rather than moving it forward was to try to enrich the communication and continually to emphasize the framework that we truly did want to vacation together. I also reminded people that they should ask for clarification whenever they wanted to, not only because such clarification could provide explicitly needed factual information but also created a "culture of negotiation" that favored cooperation over bellicosity.
One of the important tasks at this stage was to create a scoring system and to use this to improve my BANTA: I was attempting to expand my knowledge about my friends' positions and BANTA because this knowledge would expand my options, which always increases the chance for a (more) successful negotiation. During each of the negotiations I attempted to discover more about the BANTAs of each person.
Since it was clear from the beginning that cost would be a key sticking point, I asked D. If he would be willing to supplement the cost for the two of us who made the least amount of money. While he initially disliked this option, I suggested that we create a scoring system that helped each of us assess how good a "deal" we each were getting. The $1,200 price was worth five points. If D. contributed at least $300 to the others, then he would receive an additional point while the others would lose one point. D (or others) would lose one point for bringing along work to do.
Whoever made the arrangements would earn two points for doing this work, but only after everyone else in the group agreed to the arrangements and only when two complete agenda were "submitted." In deciding where what our destination the highest number of points would prevail, the points being added up in terms of everyone voting for a particular destination. This seemed to be the simplest way to create an even playing field. Such a stance on my part was most likely not only to produce a good outcome but also to leave all of my partners feeling that they had been treated with respect. A successful negotiation leaves people feeling both that they have gotten the best deal and that they have been treated as being just as important as everyone else in the negotiation.
By establishing values for each aspect of the vacation -- the price, the site, etc. -- I tried to create the maximum…