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Process and Stages
I. William Zartman
Editors’ Note: Every negotiation has a rhythm to it—whether lyrical, musical or mechanical. The rhythm regulates a progression which, once understood, can help you realize where you stand at any given moment. Here, Zartman outlines the process and the typical steps that negotiations must work through.
When Egypt’s President Anwar al-Sadat and Israel’s Prime Minister Menachem Begin negotiated at Camp David, Sadat talked about broad principles of agreement while Begin, uninterested, was haggling over details. Their progress was greatly hampered by the fact that the two protagonists were not just demanding different things, but were operating in different phases of the negotiating process, and therefore made little sense to each other. Only thanks to the integrating efforts of the mediator, US President Jimmy Carter, did they reach some sort of agreement.
Negotiation is a process, and its outcome can only be explained by process analysis: Where you get is a function of how you get there.1 Pioneering work by economists introduced process analysis in the early twentieth century, but, while theoretically elegant, it was hampered by two assumptions: fixed initial positions, and constant concession rates (Edgeworth 1881; Zeuthen 1930; Young 1975). Camp David, for example, cannot be understood by analyzing the parties’ movement from given numbers of settlements or predetermined definitions of autonomy to a compromise figure somewhere in the middle. Unfortunately, the rational choice analysis of negotiation tends to return to these assumptions, to the total disregard of process. Present-day understanding of process is in terms of stages, which gains in realism by overcoming the two limiting assumptions, at the cost of quantitative theoretical elegance (Kremenyuk 2003).
Like the earlier economic work, the notion of a staged process came from an attempt to capture the flow of labor-management negotiations. Early attempts focused on the notion of a bargaining range (often called a Zone of Possible Agreement, ZOPA), to be achieved through three stages: establishing the range, reconnoitering the range, precipitating the decision crisis (Douglas 1957), or the notion of problem-solving, to be achieved through a different 3-stage process: problem identification, alternate solution search, solution selection (Walton and McKersie 1965). An anthropological model of information exchange and learning extends to eight stages: searching for an arena, defining issues, limiting issues, narrowing differences, bargaining preliminaries, bargaining finalities, ritual affirmation, executing agreement (Gulliver 1979); a social psychological model reduces these to five: agenda debate, search for principles, issue definition, concession exchange, implementing details (Druckman 1977). Common to these attempts to grasp the essential process of negotiation are a sequential progression, both procedurally and substantively, allowing for overlapping and even backtracking; alternating antagonistic and coordinating behavior; variable concession or conciliation rates; increasing specification of positions; and synchronization problems for the bargainers (Druckman 1986).
At the core of such attempts lies a four-stage process, containing essential differences in behavior and implications for expectations. The first stage in the process is that of diagnosis; it is sometimes termed pre-negotiation because it takes place before the parties meet at the “green table” and so is often forgotten in the analysis of negotiation. Yet negotiators often declare that as much as 75% of their time is spent in diagnosing the situation in preparation for their formal meetings, and negotiations often collapse, drag on interminably, or leave unclaimed potential gains on the table because the parties have not prepared sufficiently ahead of time. President Carter amassed piles of documentation and studies before Camp David I; President Clinton’s pile was significantly smaller and he did not prepare for Camp David II in anywhere near the same depth. The results, even if imperfect in the first case, testify to the difference in preparation. ...
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