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What Ever Happened to Bargaining?

When I was in graduate school a very long time ago–I took a number of courses in bargaining theory. Later on, I had the privilege of co-authoring a book with Edward Lawler on, essentially what we was known as, “Bargaining Theory.”

In those days, ‘bargaining’ was the operative word and the word ‘negotiate’ didn’t play a prominent role in academic literature.

It seems ever since Fisher and Ury wrote “Getting to Yes” the word ‘bargaining’, or at least the noting of bargaining, has disappeared–out-casted and thrown under the shadow of the everybody-wins concept of “negotiation.”

The distinction between bargaining and negotiation is more than a character distinction–instead a subtle, even nuanced, strategic mindset lies between the two approaches.

The Difference Between Negotiation & Bargaining:

When I stand in front of a group of American students the notion of bargaining is uncomfortable. Bring up ‘bargaining’ and they look at me like I’m coming from some ethnic part of the universe where bazaars dominate, haggling is prominent, and power is essential. Bargaining, in their eyes, looks like a back alley dance–performed exclusively by shifty-eyed types.

On the other hand, when I discuss some of the concepts endemic to negotiation in foreign classrooms–I am met with equal confusion and the same awkward seat shifting. It’s as if I’m from a naive, New England-esque, alien planet called ‘Win-Win.’ Concepts, crucial to negotiations, like problem solving cooperatives and non-confrontational games are very peculiar to someone used to the idea of bargaining.