A Guide to Developing Effective Negotiation Strategies

What are the different approaches to negotiation? Which negotiation tactic will help you get what you want?

In our daily lives, we negotiate with others for things we want, whether the context is business or personal. Experts have different theories about the best approach to getting what you want out of a negotiation.

Continue reading for the two main approaches to negotiation: emotional and rational.

Two Main Approaches to Negotiation

At its most basic level, any negotiation is about getting something you need from someone else. And, by the same token, they’re looking to get something they need from you. To be a successful negotiator, you need to understand how we determine what our wants and needs are. Do our emotions drive those needs, or are we essentially utility maximizers who always follow rational incentives to increase our material well-being?

The different answers to this question reflect the two different approaches to negotiation:

  • The emotional approach says that in a negotiation, people are primarily motivated by their needs for emotional security and safety. Thus, your job as a negotiator is to help your counterpart meet those needs by practicing and displaying empathy toward them—which will get them to let their emotional guard down and enable you to get what you want from them.
  • The rational approach says that your job as a negotiator is to efficiently and respectfully reach a fair agreement that provides clear and concrete benefits for both you and your counterpart. Contrary to the emotional approach, it’s about deciding issues based on objective measures and separating emotions from the issue being negotiated. 

1. The Emotional Approach

In Never Split the Difference, Chris Voss writes that good negotiation happens on the emotional level of the brain, not the rational level. Your job as a negotiator, Voss argues, is to practice and display empathy toward your counterpart by understanding their emotions, learning to see the situation from their point of view—and, ultimately, getting them to feel comfortable enough with you to let their emotional guard down. When they’ve reached this level of comfort with you, you’re in a better position to get them to agree to your terms and conditions and meet your needs. 

According to Voss, most people have two basic emotional needs—to feel secure and to feel in control. To help your counterpart meet these needs, Voss advocates using calculated empathy—understanding someone else’s feelings to get what you want from them. This enables your counterpart to feel emotionally safe with you—to see you more as a partner than an adversary. Calculated empathy techniques include:

  • Talking slowly and calmly to show that you’re concerned about how the other person feels.
  • Using a light and encouraging voice to put your counterpart at ease.
  • Identifying, vocalizing, and labeling your counterpart’s emotions through phrases like, “It seems like you’re disappointed by what’s being offered.” 

Once you’ve used these techniques to get your counterpart to see you more as a partner (or even a friend) rather than an adversary, you’ll be able to tap into their real desires and fears. And once you’ve unlocked these, you’ll have the upper hand.

Establish an Emotional Connection by Building Trust

Similarly, Deepak Malhotra and Max H. Bazerman (Negotiation Genius) write that building trust and establishing an emotional connection with your counterpart is key to a successful negotiation. They urge you to use vocabulary that your counterpart understands and consider spending time with them outside of the negotiation setting. This will make them more cooperative and open to sharing information with you. 

Likewise, Roger Fisher and William Ury (Getting to Yes) emphasize the need to build a positive relationship and person-to-person connection with the other side. Before negotiations begin, get to know the people on the other side personally. It’s easier to negotiate with someone you know than with a stranger. Meet informally, learn each others’ likes and dislikes, and take the time to chat when you run into people whom you might have to negotiate with. 

2. The Rational Approach

The opposite of the emotional approach to negotiating is the rational approach. Practitioners of this theory write that facts, evidence, and rational self-interest are what determine successful negotiations—with results based on fair, objective standards

Fisher and Ury (Getting to Yes) are major proponents of this approach. As we discussed in the previous section, they acknowledge the value of building emotional comfort and personal rapport with your negotiating counterpart. However, through their method of “principled negotiation,” they highlight the importance of separating personalities and emotions from the issue being negotiated. According to Fisher and Ury, negotiations can fall apart when emotions get too intertwined with the substance of the discussion. Fundamentally, they write, a successful negotiator focuses on the underlying rational interests of each side, not on emotions. 

For example, if you’re negotiating with your spouse about which movie to see and you disagree with their choice, letting your emotions get the better of you might produce a response from you such as, “We always see what you want to see, and you know I hate action movies. It feels like you don’t actually care about what I want.” 

Because you’ve made this too emotion-based, your spouse may feel attacked or get defensive, which will make it harder to reach a mutually satisfying resolution. A response more rooted in the rational approach might sound something like, “I know we both want to spend quality time together, and we want to spend our money doing something we’ll both enjoy. Why don’t we each say what we’d really like to get out of this evening together and come up with a way for us both to be happy by the time we go home?”

The 2 Different Approaches to Negotiation, Explained

Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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