Win-Win Negotiation


Win-win sits in contrast with win-lose. The two do not go together.

Who wins? I lose I win
He loses (failure) win-lose
He Wins win-lose win-win


Win-win negotiation has 5 phases:

  1. relationship - getting comfortable with each other

  2. exploring views and exchanging information (NOT passing judgement or pushing anything)

  3. crafting of potential solutions

  4. selecting and refining the winning solution

  5. implementation and ensuring that each party is looked after.

It's not quick.

The above might be considered the strategy of win-win. It is the high level framework within which we work. It might be considered the rules of courting, and the different techniques in win-win tactics would be the style of each dance within each relationship.

P1. Relationship

The issue with relationship is that this is the establishment of the communications methods. It takes a while for a raport to be established - to understand how it is that the other side likes to communicate.

How this is done is totally open - business lunches, beer, social engagements, mutual acquaintances.

The main mistake is the obvious reversal of the phase. Rushing into the negotiation without having established a raport will result in various errors in protocol, and generally make things much harder.

Relationship may appear to be an odd investment to make, but it is important to keep in mind that win-win is a long term strategy. Any time spent early on in establishing relationship is paid off over many future rounds. If those future rounds aren't expected, this would question the very foundation of the negotiation.


Trust is established over time. It is done using several strategies.

Firstly, by extending weakness. In this way, you can observe how the person responds to the opportunity to abuse. Does he take it? Does he ignore it? Does he return it with any sort of comment of protectiveness?

Second, by reference. That is, by asking another trusted person about a newcomer.

Third, by introduction. The act of introducing is an explicit signal of trust. This is a positive signal that goes well beyond simply knowing a person. In societies where this is well developed, the network exists by introduction, and until you can enter that network, you are isolated.

Fourth, by background or context. Discussion with the person will establish where they come from, and that background will establish certain broad hints.

All of these have strengths and weaknesses. The good win-win negotiator is aware of all of these, and works with their limitations to build up a picture of trust.

Creating Trust in win-win

A good win-win negotiator will establish trust by extending weaknesses approximately three times. Each of the three times will be an opportunity to observe the response. Each will in general predict future behaviour. Together, they will hopefully eliminate the chance of one of them being wrong.

Each weakness will be chosen to be essentially unimportant to her. I.e., some small thing that she can live without, but in which the cost is well offset by the learning of how trustworthy someone is.

Each weakness is chosen to be unrelated to the others. I.e., uncorrelated, so that the party does not see any connection between these events.

For example, with a new neighbour, the sharing of tools is an easy way to trial the trust. If the neighbour returns the hedge clippers within the day, that's good. If not, that's bad. Our negotiator is not out for much as in a couple of days, she can pop over the fence and ask for them back. But she has established a data point: the neighbour was not thinking of following the protocol, and may have been employing win-lose (maybe she'll forget them, and then the clippers will be mine!).

Another easy way to measure trust is to purchase something in joint. Sharing expenses, and adding a little extra, is a very powerful tool to determine whether someone thinks in win-win terms.

For example, go shopping for someone, and deliberately buy something a bit extra that you know he needs, and you don't. An win-lose person will attempt to get you to pay for it, as it wasn't asked for. He wins because it is already purchased, and he doesn't have to pay for it. In contrast, a win-win person will realise that he is the beneficiary, and he wants to encourage more of that, so he will pay the costs immediately, without question, as he is thinking of the future.

Money is a powerful indicator of trust. How people deal with small expenses will tell you a lot. Do they insist on dividing up everything? Do they return the joint costs in the next round?

For this reason, much trust is built up in social events in external, informal settings. When a group meets in a bar, protocols are established for the purchasing of drinks. This protocol will tell you a lot: do each buy their own? Does one person end up paying more? Is there a rotation of rounds?

Be careful to establish the limits of this - if some person is working of an unlimited expense account, this says nothing. You need to strike at their real vulnerabilities to determine how they respond to costs and money.

Win-win is a Continual Effort

It doesn't stop there, though. Win-win is about creating the opportunity for the next round. So, all the above achieves is setting up the scenario - achieving the initial trust to try something bigger.

And in this, is the answer to "what happens if the other person is win-lose but plays win-win?" Well, it doesn't matter - win-win is a protocol for achieving the next round. As long as they play the protocol, they are win-win.

It's not about the person, but their ability to understand the next round. In actual negotiations, there is no such thing as a win-win person, there are only people who understand whether there is a next round or not. Once the round ends, then even natural win-win people will switch to win-lose.

You can observe this in house sales or legal suits. Both of these are win-lose. There is no next round. Once over, it is over. There is no benefit in handing over a compromise in the final event, as there is no follow on round.

P2. Exchange of Information

In negotiation, we seek to move away from opinions and instead move across to concentrating on facts.

We suppress opinions, and surface facts. We dwell on the facts, we muse on them, we ponder them.

As they are facts, they are not personal. They avoid the "he said, she said," they avoid the personal attacks and the defensiveness. The Dutch have an expression, something like "go hard on the facts, soft on the people." If you know many Dutch people, you will realise that they are referring to themselves, not to you.

In phase 2, we seek to share information, and only information. In Phase 1 we already established a relationship, an important but not so especially difficult step. This allowed us to move to the next phase, delicately expressing facts and truths and basic pieces of information without launching into the verbal warfare so characteristic of win-lose negotiating.

We share information back and forth, and we try hard to avoid the desperate desire to smother each fact with opinion.


Once we've presented or received enough facts, and our mind swirls with them, we use another little trick: we call timeout. We break apart to think.

There can only be so far anyone can go on new information, and still function. It takes time to avoid facts, and it also takes the mind breaking off and letting the facts simmer down somewhere deep.

P3. Exploring of Options

P4. Selection of a Solution

P5. Implementation of the Solution

Hmmm, those sections are undone. You might like to skip to an alternate treatment here: how to achieve the impossible with the five phases of _win-win_, a post over on the FC blog. If the site generates a security warning, you can either do an exception in Firefox, add the CAcert root, or try the http site.