Why Positional Bargaining Will Get You Less

When you think of negotiation, you probably picture positional bargaining. You may not know the term, but I suspect it’s what first comes to mind. It’s the most familiar form of negotiation. We’re conditioned to this approach – whether arguing over splitting a chocolate bar or negotiating a global peace treaty. At the micro and macro level it tends to be our learned default approach. 

Here's a news flash that will serve you well. Positional bargaining will get you less. Even though it’s our usual approach, it results in worse agreements, worse buy-in, worse relationships, worse outcomes. 

What is positional bargaining? It’s a style of negotiation where both parties see the exercise as a win/lose proposition. It frames the negotiation as an adversarial process where each party starts with their respective position and proceeds to defend the position. 

It’s sometimes called a zero-sum negotiation or distributive bargaining. It invokes a ‘fixed pie’ mindset, where both sides seek to keep as much of the ‘pie’ as possible. It typically means one or both parties are holding the line on a fixed idea or position, only giving concessions where necessary. 

This is why positional bargaining will get you less because there are significant potential disadvantages to this approach. Here’s just a few: 

I No Room for Creativity

In positional bargaining, there is little room for creativity. Both parties tend to hold their cards close to their chest, which inhibits open discussion to find creative, outside-the-box solutions. 

II Parties Get Locked In

Both parties are more likely to become locked into their respective positions in zero sum bargaining. They feel compelled to defend their position, becoming increasingly committed to it as the negotiation proceeds. This blocks the ability to see better solutions and inhibits the ability to change position (even when better options are available). 

III Nobody Wins in Win/Lose

When we see negotiation as a win/lose proposition, we miss the opportunity for enhanced outcomes that come with more collaborative approaches. 

IV Never Really Understand the Other Party’s Position

When we focus almost exclusively on our own position, we become blind to the merits of any other position. We’re less likely to truly listen and so we rarely fully understand the position of the other party. Effective negotiation requires a true understanding of the desired outcomes of the other party and a desire to try to meet them where possible. 

V Ego is the Kiss of Death

Ego is one of the 7 deadly sins in negotiation. Positional bargaining triggers ego. With ego in the house, best outcomes are rarely achieved. 

VI Kills Future Relationship

When we focus on ‘getting the win’ in any given negotiation, we’re likely to damage the ability to get best outcomes for future negotiations. Contrary to popular belief, negotiations are rarely ‘one offs’. Seeking to put one over the other party, will inevitably come back to bite you in future dealings and potentially ruin relationships. 

VII Zero-sum Encourages Extreme Positions

Distributive bargaining encourages parties to take extreme positions, anchoring high (or low as the case may be) so as to gain some perceived advantage. This slows down the process and is an inefficient way to bargain. It certainly makes it harder to find mutual ground for best outcomes. 

These are just a few of the perils of positional bargaining. I saw this approach in almost all negotiations in my law practice and many years as an attorney and business owner. It did not serve the parties well. This recognition is what prompted me to create the Art of Feminine Negotiation. I realized that best outcomes were achieved by building rapport and trust, by bringing empathy and understanding to the table, by being open and flexible to find the greatest good for all.  


Are you looking to up level your negotiation skills?

Please enjoy my TEDx Ocala talk
- Rise of the Feminine Voice as the Key to Our Future-  

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How to Get What You Want from the Boardroom to the Bedroom

Negotiation skills are a woman’s secret weapon.

Art of Feminine Negotiation debunks myths and multi-generational gender conditioning that have stopped women from fully stepping into their power. Uncover the unconscious biases that have limited women from becoming the biggest and best versions of themselves. 


Learn the key skillsets that mark superior negotiators, explore how women already possess these skills in spades, and master how to start invoking these essential skills with intention in everyday life.


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