This is part of the “virtual book club” discussing readings for the symposium at the University of Missouri on October 7:  Moving Negotiation Theory from the Tower of Babel Toward a World of Mutual Understanding.

Linda Putnam suggested four publications.  My introduction summarizes each one, beginning with Linda’s descriptions, which are italicized.

John: Thanks so much for your contributions, Linda.  Many of the publications in our reading list focus on the very big picture.  The ones you suggested helpfully have us zoom into a micro analysis of negotiation behaviors that should be relevant to virtually every negotiation.

Communication as Changing the Negotiation Game

Communication as Changing the Negotiation Game adopts a conflict transformation view of negotiation and examines how disputants learn from and gain new understandings about issues, relationships, and the negotiation itself.  In particular, it focuses on “differentiation” as holding contradictory forces together, “framing” as shaping the boundaries of disputes, and “joining together” through rituals and storytelling that make sense of events.

The following excerpt reflects an important insight into how communicative actions affect negotiation.

“Transformation refers to the ‘ah-ha’ moments in which the lightbulb goes on and illuminates a situation in an entirely different way.  Disputants gain new understandings or fundamentally different views of what is happening than when they entered the situation.

“Transformation is both a process and a product of communication.  As a process, coconstructed interactions among disputants produce different communication patterns that lead to the product of new understandings of problems, changes in relationships, and new ways of working together.  This point of practice focuses on communicative behaviors that have the potential to transform a negotiated conflict.  In particular, it centers on ways to enact differentiation in conflict interactions, prevent premature closure, use conflict framing and reframing, and develop unifying symbols that introduce new understandings of complex situations.”

The article lays the groundwork for the Druckman and Olekalns chapter, described below, on turning points in negotiation by providing detailed descriptions of the processes of differentiation, framing, and joining together.

Differentiation involves development of issues, attention to what is and isn’t said, attrition of issues, disruption of communication, and development of a communication rhythm.  Framing may involve different labels to describe a conflict, changes in levels of abstraction, and systematic questioning.  Joining together can occur through storytelling and enactment of new rituals.

Developing Negotiation Competencies

The chapter with Samantha Rae Powers, Developing Negotiation Competencies, provides an overview of the communication competencies for effective negotiation that surface in two research traditions: the social psychological and social constructivist perspectives.

Three major skills surface in the social psychological tradition:  control in terms of meeting negotiator goals, signaling collaboration through taking account of the other party, and adaptation.

 Competencies that surface in the social constructivist approach include the coordination of differences, the co-construction of meanings, directing communication sequences, and ability to change the negotiation game.

This paper contends that negotiators who develop optimal communication competencies are able to move outside their existing systems, alter the direction of the process, and produce new ways of understanding problems in the bargaining situation.

I found the descriptions of the social psychological and social constructivist perspectives to be particularly helpful.  Tables 1 and 2 (pp. 372, 380) provide especially useful summaries.  Sections 2.4 and 3.5 (pp. 379-81, 387) summarize and critique both perspectives.

In brief, the social psychological perspective focuses on behaviors and cognitions and competencies in control, collaboration, and adaptation.  The social constructivist perspective focuses on social systems and competencies in several forms of “eloquence” in understanding and transforming ideas and relationships.

Communication Sequences in Negotiation

The chapter by Wendy L. Adair & Jeffrey Loewenstein, Talking it Through: Communication Sequences in Negotiation, adopts a process view, one that treats negotiation as a dance that consists of moves and turns, actions and responses, and strategies and tactics. These verbal and nonverbal interactions develop into sequences and patterns that influence outcomes.  For example, research reveals three main categories of sequences – reciprocal, complementary, and structural – that account for matches and mismatches, conflict spirals and impasses, and distributive and integrative types of negotiations. 

Although this chapter focuses on methods of studying negotiation communication, it is very relevant to theorists and practitioners.  Much research breaks “stream[s] of communication into units for analysis[, which] might be single words, thought units, tactics, speech turns, emotional expressions, or whatever else the meaning under study indicates to be a primary building block.”  Table 12.1 (pp. 313-314) identifies a wide variety of ways researchers defined communication units.

For example, analysis of bargaining process can define communications as substantive, strategic, persuasive, task-related, affective, or procedural.  A cue-response study analyzed communications as attacking, defending, or integrating.  Strategic negotiation behaviors can be defined as providing integrative information, creating value, providing distributive information, claiming value, pushing for closure, and process management.  A culture and negotiation scheme defines communications as information, substantiation, offers, reactions, mutuality, procedural, and clarification.  Some researchers have used the interests-rights-and-power framework.  Others have defined communications as relational or content.  A linguistic analysis may consider social/affect and cognitive communications.

Communication researchers also analyze non-verbal communication.  Nonverbal communication can be defined in terms of posture, head movement, hand movement, hand movement, eye gaze, vocal speech, and facial expression.  An emotion and vocal fluency scheme looks at pitch, expressiveness, volume, and fluency.  One can analyze vocal dynamics in terms of engagement, mirroring, emphasis, and activity.

After deciding on the unit of analysis, one can analyze communication sequences.  Much of the research focused on sequences integrative and distributive interactions and whether or not parties respond in kind to an integrative (or distributive) statement.

Instead of considering communications units individually in novel sequences, one can analyze sequences of behaviors as units in themselves, for example as “scripts” or routines.

Transitions, Interruptions, and Turning Points

The chapter by Daniel Druckman and Mara Olekalns, Punctuated Negotiations: Transitions, Interruptions, and Turning Points, explores the concept of turning points in negotiation as critical moments that change the direction of a negotiation. Turning points have distinct departures from earlier patterns of events, events that trigger them, and short and long term consequences of these critical moments. This chapter examines transitions, interruptions, and framing as moments that mark departures from previous actions and shows how these patterns differ for value-based negotiations, conflicts of interest, and cognitive conflicts.

Obviously, turning points are critically important in difficult negotiations.  Negotiators celebrate “breakthroughs” that lead to satisfying agreements.  On the other hand, turning points also occur when there are “breakdowns” of negotiations that impede progress and possibly doom the possibility of any agreement at all.

The chapter identifies a general model in which a “precipitant” leads to a “departure” that results in a significant “consequence,” which are all “clear and self-evident.”  A precipitant reflects departures from earlier events, patterns, or expectations and may be substantive, procedural, or externally-generated.  Departures are “impactful decisions” or insights, and often are abrupt, though that is not necessarily the case.  Consequences are changes in direction of the negotiation process, which may be immediate and/or delayed, short-term and/or long-term.  These shifts may be result from reaching tipping points that occur after passing a threshold like the “straw that broke the camel’s back.”

These communication dynamics are affected by the synchronization between the negotiators as well as their resilience in dealing with challenges, among other factors.


You have suggested four very rich readings, Linda, and this summarizes just some of the highlights.  What would you add, elaborate, and/or emphasize?

Linda: These summaries do an excellent job of capturing specifics regarding the micro-practices of communication in negotiation.  The combination of the readings aims to make four key observations about negotiation theory and practice, ones that have implications for training and pedagogy.

First, negotiation as a process is enacted through multiple layers of communication, e.g., verbal and nonverbal cues, sequences of cues, meaning making that shapes responses to cues, and broad constructs, such as differentiating issues, framing and reframing, enacting strategy, expressing cultural assumptions, engaging in moves and turns, and adapting to others.

The majority of work in negotiation centers on the concept itself (i.e., framing) rather than the ways it is enacted.  These four essays, then, caution us to focus on how parties enact negotiation as a joint production of ongoing interaction.  The negotiation process highlights a series of moves and countermoves in which conflict interaction can gain its own momentum, specifically as destructive patterns develop into escalation and emerge as a conflict spiral.  We often label this development as destructive when parties add resources, issues, and high-stake consequences to a conflict situation (Deutsch, 1973).

However, this spiral begins with verbal and nonverbal messages that form reciprocal patterns that evolve into escalation, for instance, through reciprocity in the use of threats.  Flow, then, focuses on the negotiation as a dance–the streams of verbal and nonverbal behaviors, the integrative and distributive interactions, the scripts, and the routines.

Second, turning points, critical moments, interruptions, and reframing often break this flow and can turn a destructive into a constructive pattern, for example, moving to a complementary response as opposed to a reciprocal one in responding to threats or raising issues about the negotiation context to break out of adversarial interactions.  Turning points and critical moments can aid in shifting conflict processes to a constructive direction.

Third, competence in negotiation seems closely tied to understanding both the content and the process of communication. Thus, a combination of the social psychological and the social constructivist approaches reveals communication competence that extends beyond isolated skills and behaviors, i.e., developing active listening.

Specifically, the social psychological perspective centers on the content and strategy of communication, for instance, using open-ended questions to redirect interactions, making cooperative strategies explicit (i.e., I’d like to make a concession), or using communal words and linguistic mimicry to show collaboration.

In contrast, the social constructive approach focuses on the negotiation flow when a party disentangles key issues, interjects statements that move the negotiation forward, or interrupts a destructive process through questioning something that is puzzling.  Through co-constructing new meanings and changing interaction sequences, negotiators can promote conflict transformation.

Conflict transformation differs from win-win, win-lose, and lose-lose outcomes by striving to redefine the negotiation game.  It focuses on learning, adapting, and working together to create new understandings of conflict situations.  Clearly, it is not appropriate for all negotiations, but it is valuable for ones vested in ongoing relationships or repeated encounters in which the outcome of one dispute often shapes the beginning of future ones.

Research reveals that even trained negotiators have trouble altering their behaviors to fit changing bargaining contexts (e.g., professional arenas and cross-cultural exchanges, Adair, Okumura, & Brett, 2001).  Focusing on communication competence can aid in finding opportunities to transform conflict situations and to develop adaptiveness to a range of contexts.

These readings have implications for negotiation training and pedagogy. Specifically, most training emphasizes knowledge of negotiation and isolated skills and behaviors rather than learning about bargaining interactions.  Negotiation training needs to incorporate ideas from these readings and focus on training analytical abilities, especially helping parties observe and assess the communication system in negotiation and exploring ways to intervene, disrupt, and alter the process.  This training should situate individuals in group, organizational, and cross-cultural contexts that require shifting patterns and learning new routines and rhythms.


Adair, W. L., Tetsushi, O., & Brett, J. M. (2001). Negotiation behavior when cultures collide: The United States and Japan. Journal of Applied Psychology, 86, 371-385.

Deutsch, M. (1973). The resolution of conflict: Constructive and destructive processes. New Haven: Yale University Press.

John Lande is the Isidor Loeb Professor Emeritus and former director of the LLM Program in Dispute Resolution, at the University of Missouri, School of Law. He received his J.D. from Hastings College of Law and Ph.D in sociology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is also an avid writer and contributor to