The Art and Science of Negotiation

Updated: Dec 10, 2020

Negotiation is something we use in our daily lives, sometimes even without realizing it. It is a paradoxical process that involves concrete strategies and unpredictable variables. When working in a group or team setting, negotiation skills are key to productivity. Negotiation focuses around problem solving and communication, and groups can suffer if these components are weak or broken. By exploring the art and science of negotiation, we can gain more insights on how to mitigate various conflict.

Experts have developed framework and methods surrounding the concept of negotiation, and language has been developed to help organize various theories and practices. William Ury, Jeanne Brett and Stephen Goldberg identify “three ways to resolve a dispute: reconciling the interests of the parties, determining who is right, and determining who is more powerful. [They] analyze the costs of disputing in terms of transaction costs, satisfaction with outcomes, effect on the relationship, and recurrence of disputes." If you have teammates who are stuck on being right or more powerful than other members, then it can create an imbalanced working environment that can be costly.

Sifting through power and rights help uncover underlying motives and desires of both parties, which can be important in a conflict resolution/negotiation process. The science of negotiation, however, has not fully covered the many variables that exist. Lund University Political Science Professor, Christer Jönsson, states, “Research has so far failed to reconcile strategic-choice perspectives and perspectives emphasizing cognitive and social processes." If we consider that a negotiation process can have multiple (and even endless) variables, possibilities, and outcomes—we face inevitable “unknowns” and complexities. Therefore, negotiation requires a “creative” component, which brings in the art piece.

Bestselling book authors, William Ury and Roger Fisher, identify the crucial need to separate the people from the problem. They write, “A basic fact about negotiation…is that you are dealing with not abstract representatives of the ‘other side,’ but with human beings. They have emotions, deeply held values, and different backgrounds and viewpoints; and they are unpredictable...Creativity, fluidity, attentiveness, awareness, openness, and empathy are all part of unraveling the emotional components in a negotiation process." The “art” continues throughout a negotiation process as parties explore various interests, create options, and reason with one another.

Too often, group leaders do not have time to dive deeper into conflict dynamics. However, this can lead to more conflict and drain team resources. This is where an outside party can be helpful by bringing in new strategies, techniques, and perspectives. It is important to understand the framework and fluidity of negotiation in order to create a harmonious working environment. Productivity and prosperity thrives in a balanced group that has resolved inner issues and learned healthy conflict approaches.


Fisher, Roger, William Ury, and Bruce Patton. Getting To Yes: Negotiating an Agreement Without Giving In. New York: The Penguin House, 2011.

Christer Jönsson, “Diplomacy, Bargaining, and Negotiation” in Carlsnaes, Risse, and Simmons, eds., Handbook of International Relations (Sage, 2002).

“Three approaches to resolving disputes: Interests, rights and power”. In Ury., WL, Brett, JM and Goldberg, SB (1988):“Getting Disputes Resolved.

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