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We shall examine in this unit the principles of bargaining and negotiation, the method of negotiating protocols and the Joint-problem solving approach to negotiation. In addition, other related elements of negotiation will be discussed.


At the end of this unit, you should be able to:

  1. Define negotiation;
  2.  Describe the ground rules for negotiation; 
  3.  Distinguish between the Competitive and Joint-Problem SolvingApproaches;
  4. Explain the imperative of proper timing during negotiations.


3.1 Negotiation

Negotiation is a voluntary problem solving activity, or a communication or information sharing process in which the parties try to work out their real, perceived or potential differences through agreements that define their future behaviour. The agreement can be formal or informal, written
or oral, explicit or tacit. A successful negotiation leaves the parties satisfied and lays a positive foundation for their future relationship.

3.1.1 Towards a Successful Negotiation

Information release is a very important element of negotiation. The negotiating process has been described as: “the exchange of information (and its manipulation) which permits and compels learning by each party about his opponent, about himself, and about their common situation”. That is about their expectations, requirements, and strengths.As a result of learning, there is modification of expectations and requirement such that the negotiators may shift their demands to some point at which they can agree. Negotiators continue to exchange information and to explore possibilities so long as they consider that they may gain an outcome that is more advantageous than the status quo. Negotiations are thus a dynamic process of exploration in which change is intrinsic. These include changes in each party’s assessment of his requirements, in his expectations of what is possible, preferable and accountable, and changes in his understanding of the opponent’s assessment and expectations.

Negotiating parties expect to give up something of value in order to obtain something of value. Sometimes, this bargaining occurs in a cooperative environment, sometimes in an adversarial atmosphere, often in a combination of the two. But when a negotiating climate can be created which increase trust levels, enhances openness and maximizes the flow of information the pertinent times can create solutions which no one envisaged on the other hand and which arouses the need for any
party to make extensive compromises on important principles or values.

Unless a party’s goal is the total destruction of the opposition, there comes a time in the life of every community or political conflict when it is in a party’s interest to attempt to reach a negotiated settlement, since the parties are virtually always interdependent, total destruction of the

opposition becomes self-defeating if not unrealistic, even if it could be achieved. The question, then is not whether to negotiate, but, (1) When a party lacks viable alternatives to negotiating, Sierra Leone’s president

Tejan Kabbah was forced to negotiate with the rebel Revolutionary
force (RUF) for the release of Foday Sankoh and other issues when he took over most of the territories in January, 1999; (2) When a party’s power appears to have peeked; (3) When failure to negotiate may weaken a party’s power base; and (4) When the other side has few alternatives, appears to be under pressure to negotiate and appears willing to bargain in good faith, are times to consider coming to the round table. The decision can be facilitated by conducting a risk-benefit analysis which may address these questions:

  1.  How important is it for us to attempt to resolve the problem now: Are there forces at work which make it necessary to resolve the matter soon? Will a delay weaken or can it be expected to improve our power base?
  2. Are there internal or external forces pressuring us to negotiate now? (OAU pressuring Tejan Kabbah). Will our power base erode if we do not respond?
  3. What pressure makes it inadvisable to negotiate now? These might include opposition from our constituency or an impending leadership test which is best dealt with before making a commitment to negotiate
  4. What are our viable alternatives to negotiation? These can include such things as(i) Combining peaceful protest activity; (ii) Use of force; (iii) Mounting a public education campaign; (iv) Taking legal action, or (v) Binding time in anticipation that something will happen to weaken the other party’s position. The fewer the alternatives, the greater the pressure to negotiate.(e) Do we have sufficient power and leverage to enable us to get what we need through negotiation? If not, is it feasible to delay negotiations until we can improve our position?(f) How will delaying negotiation affect our power relationship with other parties? Will we be relatively stronger or weaker coming to the table later? Are we likely to do better now or later.(g) Are we prepared to make concessions and explore new oppositions which may be necessary to resolve the matter? Do other parties appear to be prepared to do likewise?(h) What pre-conditions for negotiation will bind us? Will they diminish our power during negotiations or weaken us ifnegotiation reaches impasses?(i) What are the likely consequences of coming to the table and failing to reach a settlement? Will our situation deteriorate, will it be stronger or is it likely the status quo will prevail?

The above questions should be addressed from your perspective and as information allows from the other party(ies) as well. It is also in this way that countries decide whether to negotiate or not in their relations with other countries during conflicts.

3.1.2 Negotiating Protocols

Once the parties have decided to move toward the negotiating table, they must agree on certain preconditions. Negotiations can determine who will convene the talks. They then must agree to the ground rules which will govern the process. Decisive and unambiguous protocols will help prevent subsequent misunderstandings and disagreement, which can bring negotiating to a standstill and leave the parties angry and mistrusting. Depending on the nature of the conflict, ground rules mightspecify the following issues:

(a) The basic framework, including (i) the purpose of the negotiation; (ii) the agenda (iii) procedures for adding new issues to agenda; (iv) the need for consensus and defining what “consensus” means, (v) the extent to which parties agree to support and be bound by the agreements reached; and whether all issues must be resolved before any agreements can be considered. Also, (vii) the place where negotiations will be convened; (viii) any special room arrangements;(ix) starting times and length of the sessions; and (x) deadlines must be agreed upon.

(b) The participants including (i) which parties will participate, (ii) procedure, for adding parties, if necessary; (iii) the maximum number of persons from each party to be present at the negotiations and (iv) the maximum numbers of individuals from each party to be seated at the negotiating table. Also (v) whether sessions will be closed or open to the public media. If sessions are closed, there should there be policies on confidentiality, including the use of recording devices, and (vi) how the parties will deal with the media.

(c) Outside resources, including; (i) the responsibilities of facilitators or mediators if they are to be used and the individuals or the organizations responsible for providing them; (ii) whether outside observers will be invited or permitted to attend, how they will be selected and the limits of their number; (iii) the terms on which parties will make financial or technical information available to each other during negotiations; (iv) whether technical specialists will participate when needed to interpret his information, and (v) whether sub-committees will be used to develop joint proposals and the method for selecting and using them. Finally, the parties may want to include a brief statement that they agree to treat each other respectfully and avoid insulting or disparaging language during negotiations. This may seem trivial, but it can help set a positive climate at the start of negotiations and serve as a reminder to the parties when emotions flare during the process. In short, these are the key elements that must be considered and agreed upon during negotiations especially of protocols.

3.1.3 The Joint Problem-Solving Approach to Negotiation

 The is a variety of negotiation styles, but in community public policy and political negotiations, two approaches commonly used to confront the issues are the competitive mode and what can be called the joint problem-solving style.  Each style emphasizes a different set of behaviours and results in different types of outcomes. While individuals tend to use a combination of styles, many negotiators have a propensity to behave in ways consistent with one of the basic approaches; the one with which they are most comfortable and with which they feel most adept.
Competitive: Classic competitive negotiation focuses on their own demands and demonstrates little concern for the interest of others. They are adversarial taking extreme positions at the opening of negotiations and making few concessions. They view negotiation as a win-loose proposition and consider it a sign of weakness to give any credence to opposing views. Their sole aim is to obtain as big a place of the pie as possible. They dominate the debate, exercising their power over the other party to the extent possible, making concessions only when they are forced into it. They push through to the end of the negotiation giving little thought to the future relationship of the parties.

Joint Problem-Solving: Negotiators use joint problem-solving to find ways to expand the pie rather than simply fighting for what they see when they arrive at the table. They create a cooperative, open and expansive climate by focusing on the parties interests rather than in their position. They seek to use power of the other parties rather than power over them in their effort to find solutions which mutually benefits the parties.

Joint Problem-Solving Negotiators are not averse to confronting conflict. In fact, they deem confrontation essential to the full exploration and understanding of their differences. But unlike the competitive, they prefer discussion which encourages the flow of new information over debate in which parties only try to prove the correctness of their position and belittle others. There is a time for hard bargaining and fighting for positions in joint problem-solving negotiation, but only after a long and arduous process of discussion, analysis and exploration aimed at identifying the possibilities for mutual gain.

At the outset of a model of joint problem-solving negotiation, the parties do not make demands, or even discuss their positions. Rather, they approach each issue on the agenda by clearly defining it and discussing each party’s interests and also create doubt in their minds about the validity of some of their original assumption. A climate is thus established which is conducive to the exploration of solutions based on these new insights.

When trust levels are low, the parties cannot be expected to come to the table to prepare to share a lot of information about their real needs and interest. They consider much of this information about their real strategies and guard it closely. But if the negotiation is well managed, an environment may be created that enables a party to take some risks and be incrementally forthcoming. If the other side reciprocates by sharing have-to-have confidential information, trust levels begin to decrease, tensions rise and there is a greater sharing of information and ideas about issues and the parties to the conflict.


Bargaining and negotiation are important instruments of diplomacy and foreign policy execution. We should note the meaning, the necessity for the proper timing of negotiations. This is important so that ongoing negotiations do not cause further conflict or make the already existing conflict more difficult to resolve. Negotiation is however, a very important instrument of negotiation.


We have extensively discussed negotiation; the meaning, timing of negotiations, and the different types of negotiations; in particular Competitive as opposed to the Joint Problem-Solving Approaches. We also examined the ground rules that must be considered in preparation for negotiations.


“Bargaining and Negotiations are important instruments of conflict resolution”. Discuss.


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