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

Principled Negotiation

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Principled negotiation is the name given to the interest-based approach to negotiation set out in the best-known conflict resolution book, Getting to Yes, first published in 1981 by Roger Fisher and William Ury. The book advocates four fundamental principles of negotiation: 1) separate the people from the problem; 2) focus on interests, not positions; 3) invent options for mutual gain; and 4) insist on objective criteria.

Separating the people from the problem means separating relationship issues (or "people problems") from substantive issues, and dealing with them independently. People problems, Fisher, Ury and Patton observe, tend to involve problems of perception, emotion, and communication. (1991, p. 22) Perceptions are important because they define the problem and the solution. While there is an "objective reality," that reality is interpreted differently by different people in different situations. When different parties have different understandings of their dispute effective negotiation may be very difficult to achieve. (This is what we have been calling framing problems.) Fisher, Ury and Patton suggest seven basic strategies for handling problems of perception. (Click here for a description of these strategies.)

People problems also often involve difficult emotions — fear, anger, distrust and anxiety for example. These emotions get intertwined with the substantive issues in the dispute and make both harder to deal with. Fisher, Ury and Patton suggest five tactics for disentangling and defusing emotional problems in the negotiation process. (Click here for a description of these tactics.)

Fisher, Ury and Patton consider communication problems to be "people problems" as well. They list three types of communication problems. First, disputants may not be talking to each other. While their comments are formally addressed to the opponent, they are actually addressing some outside audience. They are grandstanding, or playing to the crowd. A second communication problem arises when parties are not listening to each other. Rather than listening attentively to the opponent, parties may instead be planning their own response, or listening to their own constituency. Finally, even when parties are both listening and talking to each other, misunderstandings and misinterpretations may occur. Fisher, Ury and Patton suggest techniques for minimizing communication problems. (Click here for a description of these techniques.)

Negotiating about interests means negotiating about things that people really want and need, not what they say that want or need. Often, these are not the same. People tend to take extreme positions that are designed to counter their opponents’ positions. If asked why they are taking that position, it often turns out that the underlying reasons--their true interests and needs--are actually compatible, not mutually exclusive.

By focusing on interests, disputing parties can more easily fulfill the third principle--invent options for mutual gain. This means negotiators should look for new solutions to the problem that will allow both sides to win, not just fight over the original positions which assume that for one side to win, the other side must lose.

The fourth rule is to insist on objective criteria for decisions. While not always available, if some outside, objective criteria for fairness can be found, this can greatly simplify the negotiation process. If union and management are struggling over a contract, they can look to see what other similar companies have agreed to use as an outside objective criteria. If people are negotiating over the price of a car or a house, they can look at what similar houses or cars have sold for. This gives both sides more guidance as to what is "fair," and makes it hard to oppose offers in this range.

Lastly, Fisher, Ury, and Patton counsel negotiators to know what their alternatives are. If you don’t know what your alternatives to a negotiated agreement are, you might accept an agreement that is far worse than the one you might have gotten, or reject one that is far better than you might otherwise achieve. For this reason, Fisher, Ury, and Patton stress the importance of knowing and improving your BATNA before you conclude negotiations. (Click here for more information on BATNAs.)

In Getting to Yes, Fisher, Ury, and Patton argue that almost all disputes can be resolved with principled negotiation. They reject the notion that some conflicts are inherently win-lose or that positional bargaining is ever a superior approach. Other theorists, however, disagree--as do we. Principled negotiation is an excellent tool to use in many disputes, but we have found that it needs to be supplemented with other approaches in the case of intractable conflicts. It also is more attuned to U.S. and Western European cultures which emphasize rational cost-benefit analysis, and de-emphasize the importance of relationships and emotions. Cultures which see relationship issues as central aspects of the conflict may find principled negotiation less useful. (Click here to read about the limits to principled or interest-based negotiation.)


Links to Examples of Principled Negotiation

Roger Fisher and William Ury--Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In
This is a summary of the book which first introduced the concept of principled negotiation.  It was a "best-seller" in the U.S. for sometime, and is still considered one of the central works in the field, though it is very short and readable--not long, boring, and scholarly.
Roger Fisher and William Ury -- Principled Negotiation at Camp David
This is a short abstract which explains how Carter’s negotiation of the Egypt-Israeli accords at Camp David was a good illustration of the benefits of principled negotiation.
Sally Engle Merry -- Cultural Aspects of Disputing
This paper compares U.S. mediation (which generally follows the rules of principled negotiation) to the traditional Hawaiian way of resolving a conflict, Ho’oponopono, which focuses much more on the "people problems" than on the "substantive problems." This article illustrates why principled negotiation is not useful or applicable in all cultures.
John Paul Lederach -- Central American Conflict Resolution
This essay describes the Central American view of conflict and the methods used there for managing or resolving it. Like Merry’s article, this article also emphasizes the primacy of relationships and emotions, as contrasting to the emphasis on substance used in principled negotiation.
Roger Fisher, William Ury, and Bruce Patton -- Seven Strategies for Treating Perception - or Framing Problems
This article summarizes one aspect of principled negotiation--how one deals with perception and framing problems--which Fisher and Ury consider part of "separating the people from the problem."
Paul Wehr -- Self Limiting Conflict: The Gandhian Style
This article illustrates that one of Gandhi's tactics involved separating the people from the problem.
William Ury -- Overcoming Barriers to Principled Negotiation
This article describes ideas presented in Ury's follow-up to Getting to Yes called Getting Past No.  In this book, Ury describes five techniques of  what he calls "breakthrough negotiation."  These techniques are designed to get past the barriers that often prevent the success of principled negotiation.

Links to Related Approaches


Consensus Building

Negotiation Skill Development

Interest-Based Framing


Links to Related Problems

Practically all of the problems discussed in this site can be helped to some extent by following the rules of principled negotiation.  Nevertheless, intractable conflicts are usually characterized by at least some non-negotiable issues and strong BATNAs, making its success in reaching complete resolution very unlikely in most cases.   A few links of particular relevance to principled negotiation include:

Confusing Interests with Positions

Overly Competitive Approaches to a Conflict

Failure to Understand an Opponent's Perspective

Strong Emotions

Limits to Agreement: Better Alternatives

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