What is Distributive Negotiation? Characteristics of Distributive Negotiations

Negotiation is the process of making joint decisions when the parties involved in negotiation have different and opposing preferences. Negotiation has special significance in situations of conflict, whether it is a conflict between union and management in organizations or between countries such as China and Japan where negotiations may be required to resolve the conflict over the disputed island.

Distributive Negotiation

Conflicts and disagreements are likely to arise in work settings over such diverse matters as wages, performance evaluation, working conditions, job assignments, work schedules and so on.

In any type of negotiation, two important goals must be considered. One goal involves substance and other involves relationships. Reaching agreement on wage increases would be the achievement of substance goals. The relationship goal deals with the outcomes that relate to how well the negotiating parties are able to work with each other, once the negotiation process has been concluded.

Negotiation Strategies

Many different strategies of negotiation have been put forward by theorists and practitioners, but they generally follow one of the two approaches. One is known as the ‘distributive negotiation’, and the other is known as the ‘integrative negotiation’.

The Distributive negotiation is a zero-sum game in which parties are in a state of competition, whereby each party seeks dominance over the other and tries to maximize its own self-interests. Since the self-interest is to get the most out of the available resources and since the pool of the available resources is fixed, whatever one party wins, the other party must lose.

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Integrative negotiation is a collaborative model in which the parties seek to expand the range of possible outcomes and thereby maximize their individual benefits by shoring in the collective efforts and results. For example, a union may get better wages and in response may produce more in terms of quantity and quality. In such a situation, both the union as well as the management wins.

Characteristics of Distributive Negotiations

A case of distributive negotiation can either be a hard one or a soft one. The hard distributive negotiation takes place when each party holds out for what it wants without any compromise. Many times such an attitude leads to an impasse. This happened in the case of Eastern Airlines, where the union’s demands were considered very high and the management refused to give in. The result was a strike by the workers and the end result was that the airline went into bankruptcy and ceased to exist.

In a soft distributive negotiation, both parties follow the give and take the policy, make concessions, compromise on some issues and reach an agreement that is realistic and acceptable. In general, one party asks for much higher benefits than it is willing to accept and the other party offers much less than it is willing to give.

Then by negotiation and compromise, they meet somewhere in the middle and both parties are happy. This meeting point is somewhere in the bargaining zone.  This bargaining zone is defined by the following example:

‘A graduate with an MBA degree is negotiating a job offer with a company manager. He believes that he should get $70,000 per year in salary but would be willing to settle for $60,000 per year. That is the lowest salary he will accept for the job. The manager would like to offer $55,000 per year but would be willing to go up to $65,000 per year.

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Thus the minimum value of $60,000 for the graduate and maximum offer of the manager of$65,000 creates a bargaining zone between $60,000 and $65,000. Negotiation takes place within this zone.’ Similarly, purchasing a car or a house represents distribute negotiation with a bargaining zone to maneuver the price.

Distributive negotiation is a necessary way of resolving differences between parties with mutually exclusive goals. Parties to the negotiation will withhold as much information as possible to gain an advantage and at the same time, they will try to get as much information from the opposing party as possible.

Negotiators will generally have a very good idea as to what they are trying to accomplish and this is perhaps the most critical point of skillful negotiation. Negotiation should focus on realistic issues and not on egos about winning and not losing.

Sonia Kukreja
Distributive Negotiation
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Written by Sonia Kukreja

I am a mother of a lovely kid, and an avid fan technology, computing and management related topics. I hold a degree in MBA from well known management college in India. After completing my post graduation I thought to start a website where I can share management related concepts with rest of the people.

What is Integrative Negotiation or Win-Win Approach

Definition of Integrative Negotiations and Its Characteristics