Aspirations in Negotiation

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87 Marquette Law Review 675 (2004), Vol: 87, Issue: 4

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article description
In most negotiation courses, students are taught to consider their alternatives to reaching a negotiated agreement, identify their "BATNA," and determine their "bottom line." Yet, many courses fail to provide equal attention to the related but distinct notion of aspirations, that is, negotiator goals that exceed the bottom line. The topic of aspirations is, no doubt, addressed indirectly in negotiation courses that stress the importance of understanding interests and setting priorities, but the critical link between these concepts and setting specific goals is often missing. This brief essay attempts to rectify this omission by discussing the importance of aspirations in bargaining, how negotiators should determine their aspirations, and why negotiators often fail to follow this approach. First, this essay discusses why aspirations should be set and should be optimistic. Studies show that negotiators with higher goals accomplish more. This is based on a number of factors including how hard people negotiate, how patient negotiators are, and how negotiators view a fair settlement, among others. Second, this essay outlines how to set these aspirations based on objective criteria, and why aspirations must be justifiable. Justifiable aspirations are more persuasive and also help to keep negotiators from making the mistake of unrealistic aspirations that cause them to walk away from good agreements. Third, this essay examines why aspirations should be specific. Finally, this essay examines why negotiators fail to set specific goals because they want to avoid disappointment or lack information. In the end, while there are some risks of disappointment and unrealized settlements involved in setting optimistic goals, studies demonstrate that setting specific, optimistic and justifiable aspirations result in negotiations that accomplish more of what the negotiator wants. The role of aspirations and their importance to successful negotiations should become part of the universal concepts taught in every negotiation class.