China Negotiation: Interests vs. Positions

Everyone loves talking about Win-Win negotiation.  It sounds so sophisticated and evolved.  The fact is that Win-Win is usually little more than a smokescreen used to conceal our tactical battle for inches in the negotiating trench warfare that defines modern international business.  If you are in a traditional buyer or seller role, then you are probably not really engaging in Win-Win negotiating.  Your all about relative power and zero-sum gains.  For you to win, someone else has to lose. 

There are times, however, when Win-Win is more than a buzzword.  If you have a partner or a strategic relationship with a supplier or customer, then you may very well be engaging in true Win-Win negotiation. 

 Positions are ego-driven.  You need for the other guy to lose in order for you to win.  Your bosses and colleagues will judge you by how much you can force on the other guy.  It’s a dog-eat-dog world, and you have to defend yourself.   To top quote management consultant Richard Bobby, “If you ain’t first, you’re last”.

 Interest based negotiation puts your side’s interests ahead of the negotiator’s position.  This kind of negotiation requires clear, strategic goals and an objective explicit decision to work with a specific partner to reach those goals.  Interest-based negotiators look beyond the variables and bargaining demands and dig out the drivers behind the positions.  Interest-based negotiators spend a lot of time uncovering the motivations and rationale behind the stated demands, and attempt to find ways to unify the goals of both sides.


Position Based Negotiation


  • Goals are ill defined or relative to broad benchmarks.
  • Price or cost are the key – or only – variables
  • No relationship with counter-party
  • Little or no transparency
  • Power struggle
  • Limited time & deadlines

Interest Based Negotiation

  • Goals are strategic and objective
  • Wide range of variables
  • History of relationship with partner
  • Transparent
  • Partnership
  • Time is not an issue

 Not every negotiation needs to be Win-Win.  One-off or non-strategic transactions are often competitive – and don’t require a lot of in-depth discussion or sharing of sensitive data.  But if your are involved in a strategic relationship that seeks to benefit both sides, than you would be better off taking an interest-based approach rather than a positions-based one.   In China, this may require some patience and education.  Your Chinese counter-party knows how to talk about Win-Win, but he is probably still a great deal more secretive, opaque and reticent than you are.  Don’t get pulled into a positions-based shoving match.  If you are really committed to an interest-based negotiation in China, then it is possible.  But don’t be surprised if you have to make the first move – and the second.  But stick with it and don’t lose sight of your goal – to get a deal that serves your interests better than any other.




Please help with a research project by taking a brief, simple & anonymous survey about US-Mainland negotiation. 


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My name is Andrew Hupert, and I’m a teacher and writer in Shanghai. I am now working on a project for my International Negotiation class at New York University’s Shanghai campus (in cooperation with East China Normal University). 

Thanks very much for your cooperation in my research. I would be happy to share raw data with any participants who wish to see it, and will publish my findings on , and .

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