OTPIC Officially Retired

As of December 2, 2005, the Online Training Program on Intractable Conflict (OTPIC) has been officially retired, and is no longer open to new registrations.

The successor to OTPIC is a course called Dealing Constructively with Intractable Conflicts (DCIC). The new curriculum is built around one of our major projects, Beyond Intractability, and offers a much more extensive and informative set of learning materials than that available through OTPIC.

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International Online Training Program On Intractable Conflict

Conflict Research Consortium, University of Colorado, USA

Distributive Bargaining

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Distributive bargaining is the approach to bargaining or negotiation that is used when the parties are trying to divide something up--distribute something.  It contrasts with integrative bargaining in which the parties are trying to make more of something.   This is most commonly explained in terms of a pie.  Disputants can work together to make the pie bigger, so there is enough for both of them to have as much as they want, or they can focus on cutting the pie up, trying to get as much as they can for themselves.  In general, integrative bargaining tends to be more cooperative, and distributive bargaining more competitive. Common tactics include trying to gain an advantage by insisting on negotiating on one's own home ground; having more negotiators than the other side, using tricks and deception to try to get the other side to concede more than you concede; making threats or issuing ultimatums; generally trying to force the other side to give in by overpowering them or outsmarting them, not by discussing the problem as an equal (as is done in integrative bargaining).  The goal in distributive bargaining is not to assure both sides win, but rather that one side (your side) wins as much as it can, which generally means that the other side will lose, or at least get less than it had wanted. (Distributive bargaining tactics rarely assume the pie will divided in half.)

Often these approaches to negotiation are framed as incompatible.  Fisher, Ury, and Patton, authors of the negotiation best-seller Getting to Yes say that integrative bargaining is superior to distributive bargaining in most, if not all, circumstances--even in situations in which something is to be divided up.  By cooperating and focusing on interests rather than positions, they argue that the pie can almost always be enlarged or some other way can be found to provide gains for all sides.  Other theorists suggest this is naive--that distributive situations requiring competitive or hard bargaining often occur.

Conflict theorists Lax and Sebenius have suggested that most negotiation actually involves both integrative and distributive bargaining which they refer to as "creating value" and "claiming value."  Negotiators should do as much as they can to "create value;" once the pie is as big as they can make it, they should claim as much of the value they can for themselves.  Knowing which approach to take when is what they refer to as the "negotiators dilemma."

Links to Examples of Distributive Bargaining

Gail Bingham, Aaron Wolf, and Tom Wohlgenant--Resolving Water Disputes: Conflict and Cooperation
Often water disputes are necessarily zero-sum (win-lose), thus requiring distributive bargaining tactics, this article argues.
D. Lax and J. Sebenius, "The Manager as Negotiator: The Negotiator's Dilemma: Creating and Claiming Value
Distributive bargaining is "claiming," while integrative bargaining is "creating."  This article describes Lax and Sebenius's argument that dispute involve both.

Links to Related Approaches

Hard Bargaining

Soft Bargaining

Principled Negotiation


Links to Related Problems

Refusal to Negotiate

Poor Process or Structure

Overly Competitive Approaches to a Conflict

Copyright 1998 Conflict Research Consortium  -- Contact: crc@colorado.edu