What If They Won’t Play?

Posted by Beetle B. on Thu 09 June 2016

Much of the material with the tag gty comes from Getting To Yes.

They may stick to their position.

They may attack you instead of the proposal.

They may try to maximize their gains regardless of your gain/loss.

First Approach

Stick to principled negotiations.

Second Approach: Negotiation Jujitsu

If they stick to a position, do not attack them. They’ll dig in deeper.

If they attack your proposal, do not go to lengths to defend it. It’ll lock you into positional bargaining.

If they assert a position, do not reject it.

Refuse to react. Instead, sidestep.

Don’t Attack Their Position: Look Behind It: Do not reject or accept their position. Treat it as an option. Determine the underlying interests. Extract the principles, and improve them.

Assume their position is a genuine offer for both side’s benefits, and ask how it addresses the issues. Ask them to articulate the principles behind it. Discuss hypothetically what could happen if you accept the offer.

Don’t Defend Your Ideas. Invite Criticism and Advance: Ask them what is wrong with your idea. From their answers, extract interests. Rework your ideas with those interests in mind.

Another response: Ask them what they would do in your position.

Recast an Attack on You as an Attack on the Problem: If they personally attack you, sit back and let them blow off steam. Listen to them, and once they are done, recast their attack on you to an attack on the problem.

Ask Questions and Pause: Questions do not criticize. They educate. Compared to statements, questions are hard to attack. They do not generate much resistance.

Silence is useful. If they make an unreasonable proposal, sit back and do not respond. Silence is uncomfortable and they may become more reasonable.

If you ask an honest question and get an inadequate response, just silently keep on waiting. Often the other party will talk more and improve their response. People are uncomfortable with silence.

Third Approach: The One Text Procedure

If the first two approaches fail, use a 3rd party that both parties may defer to. Get the 3rd party to listen to both party’s interests. Have him draft a rough proposal. Both parties will find several flaws. He will improve it and the process iterates until he says he cannot improve it any further. Then the parties have to decide: Yes or No.


  • Focus on one document instead of many (especially relevant if many parties are involved).
  • Parties will be more likely to focus on bigger issues and not trivial ones.

The “3rd party” can even be attached to one party, if his concern/gain is more to close the deal than the actual details (e.g. manager of a group who wants work to begin).

You can even kick it off by authoring the first document. Have a 3rd party take over.

Key Phrases

  • Please correct me if I’m wrong.”
  • We appreciate what you’ve done for us.”
  • Our concern is fairness”
  • We would like to settle on the basis of individual standards, not of who can do what to whom”
  • Trust is a separate issue”

Do not say something positive and follow it with “but”. Consider “and”.

  • Could I ask you a few questions to see if my facts are right?”
  • What is the principle behind your action?”
  • Let me see if I understand what you’re saying”
  • Let me get back to you”
  • Let me show you where I have trouble following some of your reasoning”
  • One fair solution might be…” vs “My solution…”
  • If we disagree/agree”
  • We’d be happy to see if we can leave when it’s most convenient for you”
  • It’s been a pleasure dealing with you.”

tags : negotiations, gty