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Harv Bus Rev. 2003 Nov;81(11):64-74, 138.

3-D negotiation. Playing the whole game.

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  • 1Harvard Business School, Boston, USA. lax@negotiate.com


What stands between you and the yes you want? According to negotiation experts David Lax and James Sebenius, executives face obstacles in three common and complementary dimensions. The first dimension is tactics, or interactions at the bargaining table. The second is deal design, or the ability to draw up a deal at the table that creates lasting value. And the third is setup, which includes the structure of the negotiation itself. Each dimension is crucial in the bargaining process, but most executives fixate on only the first two: 1-D negotiators focus on improving their interpersonal skills at the negotiating table--courting their clients, using culturally sensitive language, and so on. 2-D negotiators focus on diagnosing underlying sources of value in a deal and then recrafting the terms to satisfy all parties. In this article, the authors explore the often-neglected third dimension. Instead of just playing the game at the bargaining table, 3-D negotiators reshape the scope and sequence of the game itself to achieve the desired outcome. They scan widely to identify elements outside of the deal on the table that might create a more favorable structure for it. They map backward from their ideal resolution to the current setup of the deal and carefully choose which players to approach and when. And they manage and frame the flow of information among the parties involved to improve their odds of getting to yes. Lax and Sebenius describe the tactics 3-D negotiators use--such as bringing new, previously unconsidered players into a negotiation--and cite examples from business and foreign affairs. Negotiators need to act in all three dimensions, the authors argue, to create and claim value for the long term.

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