Exchanging Information

ENegotiation can consist of different phases, especially when there are complex issues at stake. The initial stage may consist of building trust, exploring each other’s interests and enlarging the pie. You may then pass to the distributive phase of negotiation. This involves the exchange of offers, counter-offers and motives. It is what indicates preferences and creates the zone of agreement. It’s not clear cut and sometimes, negotiators switch between stages and style depending on how the discussions proceed. The available information may determine this and the decision to disclose or retain it could have a significant effect on the outcome.

What Is information?

Pruitt distinguishes between “explicit” information such as numerical and preferential indicators (e.g. price, profits, value and what is preferred in that context) and “implicit” information which is divulged when explicit discussions cause anger or an unwillingness to cooperate.[1] In that case, information about preferences can also be obtained from the manner in which an argument is communicated and priorities can be inferred from information such as a request to lower the price of a particular item in a multi-issue negotiation.

Non-verbal cues such as body language and facial expression may also communicate information about preference. The expression of positive and negative emotion may perform this function especially when they are perceived as genuine.[2] Non-verbal information should therefore be expressed carefully and the negotiator should assess how this will assist. 

The Distributive Phase

To get to this stage,  background information and facts together with the merits of each party’s case must be exchanged and understood. What this could mean is highlighting the legal strengths of your case. For example, you may wish to disclose (in very general terms at this stage), the principles of law that support your case and by doing this, it may change the perception of the strength of yours and their position. You may have even done this already and it may have been the reason you are able to negotiate at all.

The Integrative Phase

During this phase, information about preferences, values, priorities, needs and fears may be shared to encourage trust and reciprocity and to create different options which increase the resources available.[3] A series of joint explanations and explorations of those elements are required in order to come to a solution.  The types of information disclosed must therefore enable that process.

Trust, cooperation and information exchange may be encouraged by discussing procedures which ensure fairness.[4] Whilst this is difficult to define, consistent rule application, respect, politeness and good faith, despite a negotiator’s personal views about their opponent, are all elements of fairness.[5] Communicating about the process may also help the parties move past a stalemate and diffuse tense exchanges.

Top Tips

  • Preparation is key. Before negotiating, consider what information is available, what does it say about the strength of your case, what are your interests, what is important to you in this negotiation? What information do you need before the negation?
  • During the preparation stage, get to know your opponent as much as you can by researching them and trying to understand what their interest may be.
  • Consider the interests of third parties who might be linked to the negotiation. Research them. This might allow you to involve them in a way that enlarges the pie. Consider whether the opposing party may be represented by an employee, solicitor or advocate. They may have an interests in looking good, bolstering their reputation and the relationship with the opponent and these are factors which can affect acceptance of an offer.
  • Try to separate your feelings about the opponent or the conflict from the negotiation itself. It’s not often easy but revealing your emotions verbally or through body language can also reveal what your preferences are. This may not always be helpful.

Do you have any useful tips to share? Let me know by leaving a comment!


[1] Pruitt, David, Negotiation Behaviour, New York, Academic Press Inc, 1981, p171-p174

[2] Olekalns, Mara and Daniel Druckman, With Feeling: How Emotions Shape Negotiations, Negotiation Journal (2014) 30 (4) p.471

[3]  Kelman, Harold, Negotiation as Interactive Problem Solving, International Negotiation (1996) 1, 99-123, p 101

[4]Blumhoff- Hollander, Rebecca and Tom Taylor, Procedural Justice in Negotiation, Procedural Fairness, Outcome Acceptance and Integrative Potential, Law & Social Enquiry, (2008)33 (2), 473-500

[5] Cohen, Jonathan R, The Ethics of Respect In Negotiation, Negotiation Journal (2002) 18 (2), p117

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