Negotiation Theory


Heidi Burgess

June 2013

Original Publication January, 2004 updated June 2013

This section of the Knowledge Base introduces several theoretical concepts that are important for understanding negotiation strategies. These include the difference between win-win, win-lose, and lose-lose situations, positive sum, zero-sum, and negative sum situations (which are similar to the former differentiation, but NOT QUITE!).

Also included are the related concepts of BATNA (Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement), ZOPA (Zone of Possible Agreement), and ripeness. Negotiation will not succeed unless there is a zone of possible agreement, which is related to what William Zartman refers to as a "Way Out." This is one of two requirements, Zartman maintains, for a conflict to be "ripe" for negotiation, the other being that the parties are in a "hurting stalemate," a concept discussed in the "stages" section. [1]

The last theoretical concept discussed in this section is compromise. Oftentimes conflicts become intractable because the parties see the issues as non-negotiable. In other words, they are unwilling to compromise. Others may refuse to compromise because they think this makes them look "weak," or as is sometimes asserted in political campaigns, they don't want to be seen as a "flip-flopper," void of their own beliefs and just floating in the wind. While such steadiness may win votes, it seldom promotes conflict transformation or successful decision making.

More details on all of these topics are found in their associated essays.

[1] Zartman was the originator of the term "ripeness." His essay on that topic in this Knowledge Base explains it well, and gives numerous citations to print literature on the topic.

Use the following to cite this article:
Burgess, Heidi. "Negotiation Theory." Beyond Intractability. Eds. Guy Burgess and Heidi Burgess. Conflict Information Consortium, University of Colorado, Boulder. Posted: January 2004 <>.


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