Negotiation Skills Company, Inc.
Negotiation Skills Company, Inc.

The Negotiation Skills Company -- Newsletter June 2003

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The occasional newsletter of
The Negotiation Skills Company, Inc. (TNSC)

Number 26, June 2003


The occasional newsletter of The Negotiation Skills Company, Inc. (TNSC)


We recently received a question from a visitor to our website that raised some interesting issues. He said, "I would love to see an article dedicated to where to sit during a negotiation. I am familiar with the popular recommendation to sit side-by-side during a brainstorming session, but wonder whether that is the most realistic advice related to how to position yourself during a meeting."

Here's our response:

Negotiating works best when the parties are comfortable with the process. Process questions may relate to preparatory agreements on agenda items, what media will be used for communication among the parties, or the critical factors of fair treatment and civilized behavior.

Negotiators need to work in a situation where the different parties' comfort level supports, rather than interferes with the collaborative decision-making process. One of the core approaches used by many negotiators is to separate personality issues from the negotiators' objectives, the reasons they are negotiating. This can be accomplished in several ways:

  • Have the parties sit on the same side of the negotiating table.
  • Record all elements of the discussion on a single sheet of paper, a whiteboard, or some other medium that exists by itself and doesn't 'belong' to a single party or group of parties.
  • Utilize what some negotiators call the single-text approach in which all ideas are treated as independent thoughts with no consideration as to their source. In other words, using this approach, the aim is to have the negotiators consider ideas and not who suggested those ideas. This reflects the underlying philosophy of brainstorming.
  • In some negotiations using a third-party, normally referred to as a mediator, to shuttle between the negotiators can mean the medium of communication is neutral and therefore the messages moving back and forth do not carry as much emotional baggage as they might when they come directly from the mouths of face-to-face negotiators.
There is no single perfect approach that applies to all negotiations. Because we use so many different media to negotiate: face-to-face conversation, email, phone calls, faxes, and even written communication sent through the postal system (which can give negotiators more time to consider what has been or should be said), the choices negotiators make to increase the likelihood the process will yield a durable agreement must respond to each party's comfort level to be effective.

Given these considerations, negotiators need to make their process choices as transparently as possible. One simple example in face-to-face conversation is the issue of personal space. Many studies have demonstrated that people from different cultures, even different cities within a given country, have different personal space requirements. Thus, when one negotiator needs to be 'up close and personal' to feel comfortable and another party needs distance, there should be straightforward communication about the issue. If either party recognizes that the issue of personal space could have an impact on their comfort, he or she should raise the issue and negotiate a mutually agreeable communication distance in order to increase the negotiators' comfort level for the negotiations about the substantive issues.

The decisions negotiators have to make about the physical layout of the negotiation process include whether they sit across from or next to each other, around a circular table, opposite a whiteboard or flipchart, or in easy chairs with drinks and nibbles on a coffee table each can reach. Negotiators can agree to stand, to make decisions sitting side by side while traveling to a meeting, or to work on some issues face-to-face and others by phone or using email. However one must be careful: treating the decision where or how to sit and/or when and how to communicate as a gimmick to establish who's in charge of the negotiation is not conducive to initiating a collaborative decision-making process.

Discussing the communication mechanism alternatives can be as significant for setting the tone of the negotiation as any expressions of strong feelings during the process itself. A clear understanding of how each negotiating party can contribute to all the parties' comfort with the decision-making process will go a long way towards contributing to an agreement each party will willingly fulfill.


We now have members of our training team based in India and the United Kingdom - as well as Victoria Perez, a native of Colombia who can present TNSC programs in Spanish. Our website will soon have content in Spanish to supplement all the material it now contains.


"Negotiation requires the participants to take risks; but never offer something contrary to your interests."

All the best,
Steve Cohen

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The Negotiation Skills Company, Inc.   P O Box 172   Pride's Crossing, MA 01965, USA   
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