Distributive v Integrative Negotiation Styles

Negotiators use a wide range of techniques and styles because different factors will determine what they need to do to reach a negotiated settlement. As a negotiator, you may have to think carefully about the type of style you will adopt since every negotiation is unique.

What is Negotiation?

It’s a dialogue between different parties in which relevant information is exchanged for the purpose of reaching a resolution of a dispute. It could relate to a legal dispute such as a disagreement about rights and obligations or in a more general sense, it could relate to access to a resource and this could consist of negotiating the purchase of a car, for example. D

The Distributive Approach

This is often the style adopted when purchasing an asset. The only issue is the price. One party will want the highest price possible and the other the lowest.

Taking this approach, the negotiator views a negotiation as a competition in which one side will win and the other will lose. It’s about getting what you want and leaving the other wanting. A distributive negotiator will be guarded about the information they disclose and there is likely to be a lack of trust or cooperation. You see this in legal dramas between passionately enthused lawyers, shouting over an oak table and aggressively pursuing their client’s goals.

The Integrative approach

If a negotiator takes an integrative approach, she will view it as an opportunity to create trust between the parties, to express and listen to the needs and interests of the other party, with a view to satisfying both parties in such a way that a mutually advantageous outcome is achieved. This results in a win/win solution. It is not a compromise where both parties lose something but ideally, they create something new which suits both of their collective or individual interests.

Complex disputes usually require complex solutions, and this can be achieved by thinking creatively. The focus is on interests and opportunities that arise out of the discussion.

Interests not Positions

In Getting To Yes: Negotiating An Agreement Without Giving In, Roger Fisher and William Ury believe that negotiation stalls when the focus is on changing the position of the other party. Instead, the negotiation should consist of revealing and understanding the interests of the other with a view to satisfying them all.

A position may be for example, “I am right and you are wrong” or “I will not accept less than £5000 in compensation”. However, an interest consists of understanding what motivates the position. What will being right do for you? What will compensation mean to you?

Asking questions like, “why is this important to you?”, “what will this mean for you”, “how will this improve your life?” will help each party understand what each party’s interests are. 

An Example in Practice

A good illustration of how the integrative approach was the solution reached by mediators following the international conciliation between Norway and Iceland regarding ownership of the Jan Mayen islands which are positioned between the two countries. The parties knew that the waters around the islands were rich in fish stocks and that potentially, there were hydrocarbon deposits which could be exploited for economic gain. The countries had already agreed on various elements of the dispute, including a desire to reach a solution through conciliation, a procedure involving the use of a mediator following a factual investigation.

The solution resulted in joint exploitation of the islands’ resources which could be achieved through a shared endeavour. This included using the technical expertise, infrastructure, and finance of both countries and distributing the economic gains between them.

This was a creative exercise following disclosure of information in such a way that allowed both parties to be satisfied with the result. Cooperation and trust were essential aspects of this resolution which remains in tact today.

Top Tips 

  1. What type of dispute are you negotiating? Is it complex? Are many stakeholders involved or are there only two parties?
  2. Think about the style that would better suit the negotiation in light of the first point above.
  3. If you take an integrative approach, assess your own interests and what might be the interest of the other. This will require doing a bit of research or possibly reviewing expert reports.
  4. During the negotiation, ask questions about the other side’s interests and assess before which information you have that will facilitate creative solutions.
  5. Preparation is key !

The integrative approach will require trust and honesty. It preserves relationships and promotes cooperation. The idea is (as Fisher and Ury say) to make the pie bigger so that it can be divided. It’s not to take the whole of the pie and leave the other with nothing. The distributive approach might be more appropriate when trust is lacking and the relationship with your opponent is not important,  or when the dispute is about one issue only.

Different cultures prefer one or the other style so it’s also a good idea to take this into consideration and research their tendencies as part of your preparation.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.