Research on the negotiation approaches: Contrasting the integrative and distributive bargaining

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1.     Introduction……………………………………………………………………………………………… 2

1.1      Distributive Basics……………………………………………………………………………. 2

1.2      Distributive Tactics…………………………………………………………………………… 2

1.3      Integrative Basics…………………………………………………………………………….. 3

1.4      Integrative Tactics……………………………………………………………………………. 3

2.     Analysis……………………………………………………………………………………………………. 4

2.1      Is distributive bargaining an outdated approach?…………………………………. 4

2.2      Critical thinking: Compare and contrast integrative bargaining and distributive bargaining 5

3.     Conclusion: Individual preference in selecting the negotiation methods…………… 7


Research on the negotiation approaches

– Contrasting the integrative and distributive bargaining


1.        Introduction


Negotiation is a process in which all the parties related in negotiating tend to obtain and strive for the advantage for themselves in the outcomes of the negotiations. Negotiation is said as being intended to aim at compromise (Williams 2011). There are two major methods in handling the usual negotiation scenarios which are the integrative and distributive bargaining. Below we will introduce the basics and general tactics of the two different negotiation methods before we can probe into the comparing analysis of them in the analysis part.


1.1    Distributive Basics


According to Walton and McKersie’s (1965) classic research, distributive bargaining refers to the process of claiming value or dividing resources, particularly when the pool of resources is seen as fixed or limited to a specific amount. From this definition  of the distributive bargaining, we can see that in negotiations where this approach is applied, parties are trying to maximize their own interests and at the same time minimizing the cost and loss that might be incurred. In another word, the goal of using the distributive negotiation is not to make sure that all the party win but to make sure that our side will win and obtain as much benefits as possible which is in accordance with the utilitarian idea. There are several major tactics for a party to help achieve these targets in the negotiations.


1.2    Distributive Tactics


The first technique that is usually applied in the distributive method is the management of other parties’ expectation or perception of their positions. Expectation refers to one’s expectation of succeeding in achieving goals (Peterson 2007). Because in the case of distributive negotiation, information are not open and available to all parties, only the parties with the same interests may exchange information with each other, therefore, the expectations of all the parties are not based on the actual information but the information that they can get access to; The second usual skill in distributive negotiation is  having more negotiators than the other side, using tricks and deception to try to get the other side to concede more than the party concedes ( 2011); another usual technique is to avoid discussing the issue of equliy or similar moral issues, and to overpower the other parties with conflicting interest and force them to give in their persistence.


1.3    Integrative Basics


The idea of “integrative” is about taking into consideration of demand and interests of all the parties involved.  And integrative bargaining could be defined as the system of activities which are instrumental to the attainment of objectives which are not in fundamental conflict with other parties and hence can be integrated to some degree (Stein 1987, p. 49). The most obvious characteristic of integrative approach of negotiation is that it is based on a desired win-win situation and therefore the model of collaboration in handling the interest conflicts is applied. Below we will discuss some frequently used techniques in the integrative negotiations.


1.4    Integrative Tactics


One usual integrative tactic to be applied in integrative negotiation process is the creative problem solving which is a special form of problem solving in which the solution is independently created rather than learned with assistance (Ritterfeld, Cody & Vorderer  2009), it always involves the usage of creative elements to come up with the solutions. For example, company A purchases material X from company B to make certain products, but company B wrongly delivers similar material Y to company A rather than the desired material X because of the wrongdoing of the stock staffs, under such circumstances, company A could bargain for compensation from the supplier, company B, suppose that the re-delivery would take very long time which company A could not accept, there could be a creative method for company A to use material Y to produce the product if possible and company B could provide technical support and other resources to facilitate this change of material.  Such negotiation will avoid the procedure of compensation and it is good for both parties because both parties’ interest are well protected.


Another integrative tactic that is helpful in the integrative negotiation is to explore the party interests. To explore the other parties’ interests, the employment of a mediator could be of great assistance. A mediator could recognize, acknowledge, identify, and respect emotions, and uncover any non-legal issues, interests, and needs ( 2011). Here the technique of active listening could assist the mediator or the involved parties to explore the party interests based on which the desired mutually accepted solutions to the given problems could be addressed.


2.        Analysis


2.1    Is distributive bargaining an outdated approach?


Distributive bargaining is not an outdated approach because is certain advantages which are very useful under some certain circumstances. Distributive bargaining is usually adopted to fix the conflicts and disagreements between two or more than two parties and the resolution of the conflicts would request that one party win and the other party lose. According to Martin Loosemore, Andrew Dainty and Helen Lingard (2003, p. 130), the distributive bargaining is a dominant negotiation approach when handling the management union conflicts because of the “rigid, directed and controlled information processes and little exploration outside the preconceived solutions by the respective parties” in the situations. From our common understanding, both the union and the employer within such a conflict would have conflicting interests, on one hand, the union want to get the maximized benefits in term of salary increase and working conditions improvements and the employer would like to get the employees back to the working status with the least money and resource spent. And obviously, because of the conflicted interests, these two parties could not review their full information in term of the demand and space for pay increase to the other side which will certainly increase the bargaining power and result in a higher expectation from the other party. As mentioned above, the expectations of all the parties in the case of distributive negotiation are not based on the actual information but the information that they can get access to, therefore, the distributive negotiation is very good to be applied in handling the conflicts between the employers and the unions because the technique of managing or manipulating the other party’s expectation could be well achieved under this approach.


2.2    Critical thinking: Compare and contrast integrative bargaining and distributive bargaining


In my understanding, there are advantages and disadvantages to use the two different negotiation methods in the business or individual problems solving. In the positive side, integrative bargaining would satisfy the demands of all the parties and also may come up with better solutions to the current problems because the parties are focusing on the problem resolution finding rather than protecting their own interest. In addition the integrative approach because of the wide involvement of all the interested parties tend to be helpful in building and maintaining the long term business relationship. As for the distributive method, it also has its own advantages as well. It is more direct and each party has clear position which is to protect and maximize their interest, because of the simple approach, it is usually more efficiency in dealing with a lot of problems. For example, when we doing a purchase, price will be the only mattering factor, we can bargain for the price that is acceptable to us, and it can be very efficient because we will neglect other parties’ interest and focus on reaching a solution that our bargaining power could push for. And we can stop the negotiation and turn to the next target supplier if the current supplier can not meet our requirements. In addition, distributive bargaining could possibly maximize the benefits obtained from the negotiations because we have utilized our bargaining power as well as other techniques such as the manipulation of expectations of other parties to maximize the interests achieved.


In the negative side, both distributive negotiation approach and integrative approach in negotiations could have disadvantages if used in some situations. In term of the distributive negotiation, it could lead to a higher failure rate of the negotiations because both parties could insists on their positions and thus the negotiation could not generate any meaningful results. For example, in the conflicts between a company and the supplier, if both parties insist on the price in their mind, then the cooperation may end up with the ending of the long term cooperation if both of them would not like to provide any flexibility in the negotiation. In another word, the distributive approach is not convenient and suitable to be applied in the negotiation with the strategic partners with whom the relationship building and maintenance is of strategic importance. What is more, provided the failure rate of negotiations would be higher because of the strong conflicts that may not be solved by distributive bargaining, it will incur greater cost if a party needs to find a substitute new partner to continue the current work. For example, suppose Apple’s negotiation with Samsung has failed because both parties would not agree with the other party’s offering in term of the price, then Apple would need to find out a new partner to supply the similar products, but obviously the quality of the products could be lowered since Samsung is considered as the best monitor part supplier in the world which is of large scale to cope with the demand of Apple. Hence, the use of the distributive negotiation could be inappropriate in such negotiations. And in term of the integrative negotiation,  despite the many mentioned advantages such as the benefits for the partnership maintenance its major disadvantage in handling the disputes is that it could take much longer period to reach a consensus that is agreed by each party. For example, we can see that in many intergovernmental negotiations would take very long time to proceed the dialogues in term of several rounds of talking by the representative teams. Therefore, the process of the integrative negotiations could be very much inefficient if there should be some problems that the involved parties could not agree with each other.


3.        Conclusion: Individual preference in selecting the negotiation methods


In conclusion, I will suggest that there is no one best negotiation method to handle all the problems and conflicts that we have identified in our personal life as well as in the working environments, both distributive and integrative approaches have their own application as analyzed above. Therefore, I will recommend that we use the mixture of them in the negotiations. When we are dealing with the one time bargaining such as purchasing from a random supplier, the distributive approach is more advisable to be adopted while the integrative approach is more appropriate when we are handling the problems with the long term partners who have strategic implications for our business. In another word, because of the different advantages and disadvantages of the two distinctive approaches, we should use any of them when appropriate and therefore obtain the best ultimate outcomes that could benefit our business as well as personal interests.




Reference 2011. Distributive Bargaining. accessed on 23 Apr 2012 [online]:


Loosemore, M., Dainty, A. & Lingard, H. 2003, Human Resource Management in Construction Projects: Strategic and Operational Approaches. New York: Spon Press. p. 130


McKersie, R. B. & Walton, R. E. 1965. A behavioural theory of labor negotiations: An analysis of a social interaction system. New York: McGraw-Hill.


Peterson, R. L. 2007. Inside the Investor’s Brain: The Power of Mind Over Money. New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.


Ritterfeld, U., Cody, M. J. & Vorderer, P.  2009. Serious Games: Mechanisms and Effects. New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc


Stein, M. B. 1987, Canadian Constitutional Renewal, 1968-1981: A Case Study in Integrative. Ontario: Queen’s University Press. p. 49


Williams, C. 2011. Outlines & Highlights for International Public Relations: Negotiating Culture, Identify, and Power. New York:  Cram101 Textbook Reviews. 2011. Facilitating Distributive and Integrative Negotiation in Mediation. accessed on 23 Apr 2012 [online]:


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