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Is negotiation dead?

August 16, 2018

At its simplest, the word ‘negotiation’ means no more than having a discussion that is aimed at reaching an agreement. In this context, it seems safe to say that negotiations will survive; it is the current approach to negotiating that, while not yet dead, is in terminal decline. That’s because most negotiations today are inefficient and a high proportion are ineffective.

The real purpose of negotiating

It is certainly true that negotiations aim to reach agreement – even if that agreement is ultimately not to agree. An effective negotiation seeks to explore interests and reach an alignment. To succeed, there must be something for both (or all) parties. A good negotiation also establishes a framework – for example, rights, obligations and consequences – and is often needed to ensure shared understanding of goals or objectives.

A key problem that affects many negotiations is that they are incomplete and they are an exercise in the use of power. Business negotiations often operate to a formula and within constraints that almost guarantee sub-optimal results. In fact, they are often non-negotiations because the more powerful party deploys a team with little authority and with an objective of ensuring ‘compliance’.

A new – and better – way

I am looking forward to a webinar next week, when I’ll be discussing with Chris Halward, former Director of the Global Sourcing Association, how to bring new life and meaning to the field of negotiation. We are planning to explore the extensive influence that technology is starting to have, both in terms of equipping negotiators and – in a growing number of cases – replacing them. But we are also confident that there is a continuing role for humans and will explore how that will change, as the focus shifts from ‘getting the deal done’ to ensuring that we have established the mechanism for a positive outcome.

If you’d like to join us on the webinar, you can register at And if you have thoughts, opinions or questions you’d like to share please write to me or post a comment.


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