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  • Felix Zilk

What is negotiation?

Updated: Jan 16

First, ask yourself this question: What do you think of when you think of negotiations?


Are you thinking of the recent Brexit negotiations, multi-million dollar business deals, COVID-19 vaccine deals, or international agreements to combat climate change? Imagine a more dangerous scenario where police officers are negotiating the release of hostages. Or think about the last time you asked a professor for an extension on a paper deadline. Or your last job interview. You may think of many more scenarios. Now take a look at the following list: Which of these scenarios do you think is a negotiation?

  • Buy spices at the Naschmarkt

  • Decide with your partner where to go on vacation

  • Getting another country to lower a trade barrier

  • Convince a child to eat their vegetables

  • Discussion about outsourcing a company

  • Building a stable coalition to form a government

  • Nuclear Test Ban Treaty

  • Meeting the in-laws for the first time

  • Apologize to someone whose property you have unknowingly damaged

  • Putting a child to bed

  • Give or receive feedback

  • War

In some cases, determining whether or not this is a negotiation may be simple; in others, it may be more difficult.The truth is that most of us who have never taken negotiation training would intuitively picture these stylized negotiations as managers in suits sitting down around a table, taking notes, exchanging demands, agreeing, and shaking hands. But of course, if we look at it in a broader sense, negotiation theory covers much more than that. In fact, all of the above scenarios involve negotiations. Let's look at what these scenarios have in common (you can think about it for a moment first).


Beverly DeMarr and Suzanne de Janasz (DeMarr B.J. & De Janasz S.C. (2013). Negotiation and dispute resolution (1st ed.). Prentice Hall.) identify six characteristics of negotiations:

  • Includes two or more parties

  • Involves a conflict of interest between the parties

  • Expectation of a better outcome through the negotiation process

  • The parties prefer a mutual agreement to any alternative

  • Parties must be willing to give something in order to get something

  • Tangible and intangible components

All of the above scenarios meet these six characteristics. It makes a great exercise to identify them for each scenario.

Leigh Thompson (J. Jay Gerber Professor of Dispute Resolution and Organizations at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University) says:

"Anytime you cannot get what you want without the cooperation of someone else, you're technically negotiating."

Whether you like it or not, you are a negotiator. Negotiations are an ever-present aspect of our lives. And, as you can see, you don't have to be a diplomat, a lawyer, a hostage negotiator, or part of a multi-million dollar business deal to negotiate on a daily basis; we negotiate with our families, our friends, and our society. And sometimes people fail to turn their conflicts into mutually satisfying agreements because they don't realize they are in a negotiation.

Let's start from here: We have no choice; we have to negotiate whether we like it or not.

So stay tuned in and follow our Vienna School of Negotiation blog to continue learning more about different topics of negotiation.

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