This is another 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.

Sanda Kaufman suggested Howard Raiffa’s book, The Art and Science of Negotiation: How to Resolve Conflicts and Get the Best Out of Bargaining (1982), which is considered a classic in our field.  Indeed, he was a giant in our field and he just passed away on July 8 at the age of 92.

This post is particularly timely considering Janet Martinez‘s and Michael Moffitt‘s recent comments.

John:  I started to read this book many years ago and didn’t get very far before I put it aside.  I just tried again and didn’t like it any better (though I read more of it this time).  I will provide a brief summary and then ask you to highlight key insights you take from the book.

The book is organized into five parts: (1) Overview, (2) Two Parties, One Issue, (3) Two Parties, Many Issues, (4) Many Parties, Many Issues, and (5) General Concerns.  The first chapter, “Some Organizing Questions,” includes:

  • are there more than two parties?
  • are the parties monolithic?
  • is the game repetitive?
  • are there linkage effects?
  • is there more than one issue?
  • is agreement required?
  • is ratification required?
  • are threats possible?
  • are there time constraints or time-related costs?
  • are the contracts binding?
  • are the negotiations private or public?
  • what are the group norms?
  • is third-party intervention possible?

The book uses real-life and hypothetical cases to illustrate his points as well as mathematical analyses of some of the principles.  Some of the general principles follow the logic in Getting to Yes.

Raiffa wrote that the book is intended to provide advice for real-life negotiators but the book seems to assume that readers can infer most of the lessons without summarizing them explicitly or clearly.

HELP!  What is important to learn from this book?

Sanda:  This is another book taking the decision making perspective. This means, first, that the incentives inherent in a situation and the negotiators’ objectives are central to the analysis.  In later years, scholars gave their minds to various other important aspects such as negotiators’ cognition, emotions, culture, gender, knowledge, creativity, communication, and negotiation skills.

Nevertheless, I would argue that we can expect (descriptively speaking) and should (prescriptively speaking) see these other considerations pale by comparison to the stakes and stakeholders’ objectives, especially when stakes are high.  That would not be the case for many inter-personal disputes, especially those revolving around relationships.

But we can expect — and should wish — for this focus on the stakes in international and policy disputes, for example.  Such disputes are waged through representatives of large groups of people affected by the outcomes.  We would want the representatives to do their best on behalf of their constituencies.

This is not to say that the other aspects of negotiation cease to matter in such contexts, but perhaps they do and should matter far less than the key issues at hand.  Note that knowledge, creativity and negotiation skills remain critical.  Raiffa did not address them explicitly, but rather assumed implicitly that negotiators are capable (which, of course, is not always the case).

The organizing questions you listed above are evidence for how Raiffa approached negotiations.  He did not ask about culture or gender or the cognitive biases at play, not because he did not believe they matter, but because he held the answers to his questions to matter much more as one prepares to enter negotiations.

Each of these questions goes toward putting together a strategy and a process.  Then his chapters are pretty much reflective of key aspects of negotiations that are bound to make strategic or process differences.  While many of us would also agree that the strategizing should include other concerns, I am not sure if any of us would say they should come before or at the same level as those Raiffa addressed.

Your observation that Raiffa seemed to assume we all get what he is talking about is very important.  Indeed, when he wrote his books, this was the case.  If we were to look at syllabi for negotiation courses and at textbooks from the time, we’d notice that they are all organized from the simple to the complex — from two-party one-issue to multi-party many-issues negotiations.

This still makes sense to me, perhaps because I learned negotiations from Raiffa and others who share the same decision making perspective.  Roy Lewicki et al.’s very popular negotiation textbook mirrors to an extent the historic evolution of negotiation research.  His text begins with a Raiffa-like structure to which he adds what I call “bells and whistles” –-  perceptual and cognitive biases, communication issues and cultural aspects etc.

In Raiffa’s generation, from the decision making perspective, cooperation and competition were two families of strategies.  Stakeholders would select the one that would help them attain their objectives.  For many reasons, cooperation often yields the better results, which is the reason one should select it when appropriate.

Gradually, competition and cooperation have acquired a value status and cooperation -– in teaching and in real situations -– has become desirable in itself.   Witness countless experiments seeking ways to increase cooperation as if it were or should be an objective.

I have also seen consensus building processes where participants opt for the generic, broadly unobjectionable alternative (and get a warm and fuzzy cooperative feeling) rather than engage in the hard work of ironing out difference to craft a better agreement.

Of course, if we agree that a stakeholder should opt for his/her BATNA if the outcome of a negotiation promises to be inferior to it, then encouraging cooperation as an objective is inconsistent with this prescription.   Students and real stakeholders alike will take an outcome inferior to their BATNA simply because they set a value on cooperation.

To discourage my students from choosing cooperation for its own sake, I often tell them that there is no place in heaven for cooperators.   Rather, students and negotiators alike should choose cooperation only if it helps them obtain a better outcome, which is often the case.   Preserving relationships can be an objective so this prescription does not only refer to tangible objectives.

Richard Shell has said that Fisher and Ury wrote their book to remind themselves to cooperate (rather than give in to their competitive tendency).   If I recall correctly, Shell said he wrote his negotiation book, Bargaining for Advantage:  Negotiation Strategies for Reasonable People, to remind himself to compete.   All three would do well to tell us how they themselves decide whether to compete or cooperate.  I am guessing that none of them would cooperate just because it’s the nice thing to do.

If I were to dare criticize my idols, I’d say that one problem they have not addressed explicitly — and that still hampers us at least in international and policy disputes — is process design.   I ascribe this missing link to the tendency of early scholars to talk about all kinds of contexts but then revert to treating negotiations as inter-personal and, with a wave of the pen, imply that the same process is involved in negotiations between large groups using representatives.   However, the inter-personal to inter-group analogy does not serve us well.

A second problem still left unattended by my decision making idols is what to do when we negotiate with someone who “hasn’t read their books.”   Actually, they do have a recommendation:  revert to a competitive stance.  But as we have come to worship cooperation, their advice is not satisfying.

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 Indisputably.org