Understanding Goal-Directed Negotiation

From Purpose to Practice

The benefits of Goal-Directed Negotiation

Goal-directed negotiation (GDN) is achieving a desired outcome through communication, creativity and concession. It involves identifying the objectives of each party involved in the negotiation and then working towards a mutually beneficial agreement.

As discussed in an earlier section, just as Cybernetics helps us to understand the underlying patterns of collective leadership, so goal-directed behaviour will help us to respond to those patterns through relationship based behaviour. Goal-directed negotiation will help us to work collaboratively towards shared desired outcomes.

4 Steps illustrating vision, goal, action and success

Goal-directed negotiation (GDN) can be helpful in various settings, including business negotiations, legal disputes, and professional and personal relationships. To effectively engage in GDN, it is essential to remain open-minded and flexible. This means being willing to listen to the other party’s perspective and considering different resolution options. It is also helpful to clearly understand your goals and priorities and those of others. By using a goal-directed negotiation approach, it is possible to achieve a win-win outcome that benefits everyone involved. GDN can lead to stronger relationships, improved communication, and tremendous success in achieving your objectives. So, if you find yourself in a situation that requires negotiation, consider taking a goal-directed approach to help you reach a favourable outcome.

Systems and goals are closely related, with systems representing how the organisation is structured and the processes that exist whereas goals represent what the organisation wants to achieve through the systems and structures and how to motivate people to achieve them.

We also observed in an earlier section that the science of synergetics compliments our approach in tackling complex systems. For GDN, we make similar arguments but additionally see the benefits from the wider goal-setting theory originating from 1990. We can look to the definition of a goal from this theoretical perspective and then apply it in practice to essential negotiation skills:

The term goal is defined by goal-setting theory as the object or aim of an action. In a work setting, it might be a level of performance to be attained. Goals have two attributes, namely, content and intensity”
(Locke and Latham, 2013: 4).

As with the wider systematic synergetic structures, in which control plays an important role, the same applies with goal setting.  We recall that the difference between synergetics and cybernetics lies in the way the control is being exercised. We can equate goal-setting to a cybernetic process in that a well researched and planned goal  gives shape and represents a genesis of creation and innovation. It gives meaning to what an organisation is seeking to achieve.  In our case, it frames the parameters and the desired outcome of the forthcoming negotiation.

The Levels and Parameters of the goal differ.  Goals can range from a simple goal for a standard, relatively routine negotiation at an operational level.  Conversely, some negotiations will have a commitment to wider global, national or industry specific strategic goals.  From a values perspective, the high level (and ethical) goal of pharmaceutical negotiation is to ensure that patients can access safe and effective drugs at an affordable cost. No-one would disagree with this but, as with other sectors, the importance of profit will often overshadow ethical values.

LOCKE, E. A. & LATHAM, G. P. 2013. New developments in goal setting and task performance [electronic resource], New York ; London

Growing Goal-Directed Behaviours

Goal-directed negotiation is a subset of goal behaviour that pertains to the negotiation process. Goal-directed negotiation and goal-directed behaviour, whilst related concepts, do differ. Cybernetics determines the control mechanisms in support of organisational systems leading to wider goals which provide the motivation to achieve them. In a wider sense then, Goal-directed behaviour is any behaviour driven by a goal or objective. Persistence, effort, and the willingness to adapt strategies to achieve the desired outcome often characterise goal-directed behaviours. Growing behaviours is just as important as growing innovation within organisations.
Innovation Bulb

Different contexts will influence diverse behaviours involving goals, such as achievement, social, or personal goals. On the other hand, goal-directed negotiation refers to a type of negotiation in which the parties involved focus on achieving specific negotiation goals or outcomes. In this type of negotiation, each party is motivated by interests, such as financial gain, increased market share, or improved reputation, and seeks to achieve those interests through strategic negotiation.

Behavioural Characteritics

Behaviours will drive the negotiation style, which ranges from competitive (often focused on self-interest), collaborative (mutual gain to develop long-term relationships) and critical (at times of crisis or immediacy of action. The goal will determine the negotiation style, and the desired style will often influence the negotiation behaviours. For example, the behavioural mindset in a strictly competitive negotiation usually reflects a ‘zero-sum’ win-at-all-costs strategy. Conversely, a top-end collaborative negotiation will follow a relationship-trust plan to seek long-term and mutual gains based on the overall negotiation goal.

Negotiating behaviour can be considered along two basic dimensions; assertiveness, in which the party seeks to prioritise their negotiation goal with little regard for the counterparty, and cooperativeness, in which both goals are given a due weighting. Negotiators will sometimes approach the discussion from vastly different perspectives, which can result in conflict. Conversely, when two collaborators negotiate, both will likely seek mutual benefit regarding the outcome.

Negotiating conflict can be handled in five ways.

The Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI) helps us understand how conflict styles affect personal and group dynamics and how negotiators seek to balance their and the counterparty’s goals. The TKI model is based on a five-category scheme for classifying interpersonal conflict-handling modes:

  1. Competing: assertive, self-confident, aggressive, and focused on getting the best deal.;
  2. Collaborating: honest, good communicator and relationship-focused. They aim to be creative and satisfy all party’s interests.;
  3. Compromising: seek consensus by splitting the deal between the parties. ;
  4. Avoiding: not assertive, avoiding tension, remaining neutral, or deferring to their counterpart.; and
  5. Accommodating: maintain relationships with the other party and try to manage tensions by smoothing over the differences..

The Components of GDN

Goal depicted on Dart BoardThe first step is to set a goal. You may wonder why only one goal is recommended. The answer to whether you should select one goal or several goals depends on circumstances and preferences. If the goal is more complex and requires multiple steps, it may be more effective to break it down into smaller, more manageable objectives. This helps us as we progress through our planning and negotiation journey.   The goal should encompass our priorities and what matters most to us. If we have multiple negotiation interests, we must prioritise or balance them based on how they will help us achieve our desired outcome.

Most of us will have heard of the need for ‘S.M.A.R.T’ goals: to be Specific and clearly defined; be Measurable, quantifiable with success factors; be challenging but Attainable; The goal should be Relevant to your organisation’s purpose, and supported by clear Timelines with milestones.

All of these components relate to negotiation goals.  Feedback should be built into the goal-setting process, and all of our colleagues interested in the negotiations’ desired outcome must be committed and own the goal.

Goal-Directed Negotiation Process


Creating an action plan to achieve any negotiation goal requires more than a simple instinct. Devising a negotiation goal requires a collective vision and ambition. Your action plan should flow naturally from the goal. Set your goal based on five Rs for effective resolution of the reason for the negotiation.

Five Rs of Setting Negotiation Goals

Why set goals? … should we set goals and, if so, which goals?

In answering why, we can argue three points:

  1. First, a goal represents your reasonable expectation of the outcome you desire from the negotiation.
  2. Second, do not assume that your goals and the goal of the counterparties will be the same or even similar.
  3. Third, do not assume that your counterparty is the only one to fulfil your goal. There may well be others.

A tangible goal is preferred to an intangible aim. But first, you need to know what you want to achieve. Having answered the why question, you should now ask what? A tangible (result-oriented) goal is based on the ‘S.M.A.R.T’ criteria described above. Apply these criteria to every suggested goal for you and (estimate) your counterparty.

  1. The negotiation resolution should match the raison d’être of your organisation.
  2. For example, you may wish to achieve a particular financial target in your negotiation, which may be specific (to secure an investment of £1m from your counterparty), but for what reason (i.e., to reinvest in infrastructure)? This adds measurability and realism to your potential goal.
  3. What results would your counterparty be seeking? They would not just give you a £1m investment unless there is a mutual benefit to their organisational purpose. Try and assess what that benefit may be.

Please return to our stage one questions and consider the organisation’s purpose, in other words, why the organisation exists. Your reasoning should challenge the assumptions that led to the potential goal. Ambition takes this one step further, defining what you want to achieve through the negotiation.

  1. Are you being objective, both about your goal and the potential goal of your counterparty?
  2. Assumptions can often lead you in the wrong direction. Play devil’s advocate within your team and challenge your reasoning.
  3. Reflect through difficult questions. What impact will the goal have on you and others, and will this impact be positive or negative? Ask the same questions about the potential ambition and impact of your counterparty.

When you are confident that you have decided on the right outcome based on reasoned assumption and ambition, the next step is to be adaptive in achieving your reasoned goal.

  1. What resources are required to match your ambition?
  2. Do you have an acceptable range of choices?
  3. Is there an alternative you can turn to if this negotiation is unsuccessful?
  4. Will a collaborative approach to the negotiation result in a greater sense of shared resources?

Have you got access to the right people with the right level of skills and subject matter experience? It is not just your responsibility to nurture the goal and develop the tactical plan. It is a collective responsibility, which will often be shared between counterparties, but the critical responsibility will always rely on your team members.

  1. The selection of your team members is critical. This selection will not just be centred around seniority but importantly focused on subject matter expertise, experience and influence
  2. The collective responsibility begins with discussing and agreeing on your negotiation goal.
  3. The responsibility continues in mapping out your tactical plan for reducing information asymmetry in getting to an agreement or deal.
  4. Each team member should have a game plan, and all members should understand each other’s.
  5. Finally, expect the unexpected! You may know what you know, but how will you discover what you do not know?

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