- Kathleen Vande Kieft
Updated April 2013
Negotiation is the process by which two or more parties attempt to reach an agreement.
Negotiation is the most basic term in conflict resolution, but its forms, possibilities, and limits are widely misunderstood. An understanding of what can be achieved through negotiation and how the process works is essential to virtually everyone in modern life, whether at home with a family, at work, as a consumer, in voluntary or religious organizations, in local politics, or in dealing with officials.
Negotiation pervades every kind of relationship between any two individuals or groups. It can be as simple as the process by which an appliance store decides to give a customer a discount because the customer has found a scratch on the refrigerator she wants to buy, or as complex as a dozen nations deciding whether to admit a thirteenth to an international trade organization. Its distinctive characteristics are that it is a conflict resolution mechanism which cannot reach a conclusion without agreement of the parties involved, and that it is always accompanied by at least the possibility that one or another of the parties will revert to a different process if dissatisfied (such as a strike, mediation, litigation, arbitration, or even war).
Even as simple a transaction as buying a television set from a store which posts its prices — and claims they are fixed prices — turns out potentially to involve negotiation. A buyer, for example, may offer to pay the store's price for the television set — and also to buy a digital video recorder, if the store will agree to deliver both without charge. The store might propose in return to deliver without charge, and to discount the price on the combination, if the buyer will substitute a different video recorder, a model of which the store has bought far too many. Thus even the simplest, apparently fixed-price transaction can turn out to involve possibilities for negotiation that may satisfy both parties better in the end.
Everyone negotiates at least some of the time. But not everyone is aware of all the opportunities for negotiation. The basic act of pausing to consider what other arrangements might work better for everyone involved (and that the other person or persons might agree to) can open up many opportunities that at first sight do not appear to be "negotiable."