Navigate the negotiation bargaining zone

To negotiate effectively, you need to identify the Zone of Possible Agreement (ZOPA) – or what we at ENS call the ‘negotiation range’. By understanding the negotiation range and navigating it skilfully, you can achieve an outcome that maximises your own interests while still satisfying the other party.

ZOPA definition

So what is the ZOPA or negotiation range? The negotiation range is the area between the minimum and maximum points where two parties could potentially agree. Also known as the positive bargaining zone or settlement range, it is the range in which the interests of both parties overlap – and where agreement can be reached.

Skilful negotiators do not wait to uncover the negotiation range during formal negotiations with the other party. Instead, identifying the negotiation range is a central part of their preparation. The ENS negotiation approach includes a range planning phase in which you analyse both your own goals and those of the other party.

Your negotiation goals should cover a range. At the bottom of the range is your ‘resistance point’ – the minimum outcome that you could accept. Find it by asking yourself ‘What’s my best alternative elsewhere?’ (BAE). At the top of the range is your aspirational target point in negotiation – your ideal or best possible outcome. In between these resistance and aspiration points lies a ‘realistic’ point: an outcome that might be thought of as ‘fair and reasonable’.

Once you have determined your own range and estimated that of the other party, you can find the area in which they overlap – the negotiation range or ZOPA. If there’s no overlap, you are in a negative bargaining zone, where agreement is not possible.

How important is the ZOPA in negotiations? 

The negotiation range is fundamental to every negotiation. The purpose of negotiating is to reach agreement. If you cannot find the negotiation range, agreement is probably impossible and the negotiation fails.

But an in-depth understanding of the negotiation range does more than improve your chances of reaching an agreement: it also helps you achieve an outcome that goes beyond the bare minimum you would accept. Understanding the negotiation range enables you to assess your own bargaining position, planning your negotiation tactics accordingly. It also gives you a starting point for exploring different options and expanding the bargaining range. With some common ground already established, you can more easily generate other common needs and steer the negotiation closer to your aspiration point.

What skills do I need to reach the ZOPA during negotiations?

ZOPA negotiation relies on sophisticated communication and thinking skills.

Skilled negotiators are, first and foremost, good communicators. To negotiate successfully, you must understand, monitor and control the words you use, as well as your body language. The most successful negotiators are aware of how their communication affects the emotional tone of the negotiation, and they deliberately choose the approach that will allow them to navigate the negotiation range and achieve the best outcome.

But the most important communication skill is the ability to listen. Pay close attention to what the other party is saying and ask follow-up questions to clarify your understanding. Don’t limit yourself to what is said: body language, tone and other non-verbal cues also give you crucial insight into what the other party is feeling. It is only through this deep listening that you can understand the other party’s position and find common ground.

You will also need the ability think strategically. Strategic thinking skills enable you to analyse the situation and reach the settlement zone in negotiation by identifying your own and the other party’s needs.

Finally, a good negotiator is creative. Creativity in negotiation is the ability to generate and explore novel ideas, make new connections between concepts, and devise innovative solutions. This kind of creativity helps you to expand the bargaining range, increasing the likelihood of achieving a good outcome. 

Tips for navigating the bargaining zone

ENS’s comprehensive and sophisticated negotiation framework can help you to find and expand the negotiation range, and from there, maximise your interests. Here are some tips:

  • Prepare thoroughly: Rigorous preparation is the foundation for every successful negotiation. A central part of that preparation is understanding the negotiation range by identifying your own goals and those of the other party. If you do not establish these at the outset, you risk weakening your negotiating power and being anchored by the other party’s demands. It’s particularly important to be clear on your BAE, or you may agree to a bad deal even though you have a better option somewhere else.
  • Expand the bargaining range: Expanding the bargaining range means thinking creatively to find solutions that go beyond the obvious. One way of doing this is to broaden your analysis of the other party’s needs, considering not only the stated needs of the organisation, but also the hidden personal needs of the negotiators. ENS training shows you how to expand the range of possibilities by systematically analysing the other party’s hidden personal needs.
  • Compromise – but do it tactically: Concession-making is a central part of most negotiation processes. To break deadlocks, you may need to give up some of your demands. But don’t give away concessions unilaterally, or without strategically analysing their value and what you want in return. The ENS approach gives you a comprehensive framework for planning what, when and how to concede in a way that leads you to an outcome that acceptable to the other party – and good for you.

Learn about essential negotiation concepts like the negotiation range and develop your negotiation skills.  Find the next ENS negotiation and influencing training course near you.

ENS Team
ENS Team

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