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Distributive Bargaining: A Beginner’s Guide with Examples and Tactics

Distributive Bargaining: A Beginner’s Guide with Examples and Tactics


Jane Ng 05 Sep 2023 5 min read

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you had to haggle over the price of a car, negotiate a salary increase, or even bargain with a street vendor for a souvenir? If so, you’ve engaged in distributive bargaining, a fundamental negotiation strategy that focuses on dividing a fixed resource. 

In this blog post, we’ll explore what distributive bargaining is, its everyday examples, and how it differs from integrative bargaining. We’ll also delve into the essential strategies and tactics that can help you become a more effective negotiator in distributive scenarios.

Table Of Contents

Image: freepik

What Is Distributive Bargaining?

Distributive bargaining is a negotiation strategy where two or more parties aim to divide a fixed or limited resource among themselves. Think of it as a scenario where you have to split a pizza into slices, and everyone wants a bigger piece. In distributive bargaining, the idea is to maximize your share of the pie while trying to get the best possible deal for yourself.

In simple terms, it’s like a tug-of-war over who gets what. This type of bargaining often involves competing interests, where what one party gains, the other may lose. It’s a win-lose situation, where the more one side gains, the less there is for the other

Distributive Bargaining vs. Integrative Bargaining

Distributive Bargaining is all about claiming your share, like haggling over a price at a market or negotiating a salary increase with your employer. The more you get, the less the other party receives.

Integrative Bargaining, on the other hand, is more like expanding the market. Imagine you and your friend have one pizza, but you also have some extra toppings like pepperoni, mushrooms, and cheese. Instead of fighting over the existing pizza, you work together to create a better one by adding toppings to your liking. Integrative bargaining is a win-win approach where both parties collaborate to find creative solutions that increase the overall value.

So, in a nutshell, distributive bargaining is about dividing a fixed pie, while integrative bargaining is about making the pie bigger by finding mutually beneficial solutions.

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Distributive Bargaining Examples

To understand distributive bargaining better, let’s explore a few real-life examples where this negotiation strategy comes into play:

#1 – Salary Negotiation: 

Imagine you’re discussing your salary with a potential employer during a job interview. You want a higher salary, and they want to control labor costs. This situation represents distributive bargaining, where you’re both competing for a fixed resource – the company’s budget for your position. If you negotiate successfully, you get a higher salary, but it might come at the expense of other benefits or perks.

#2 – Car Purchase: 

When you visit a dealership to buy a car, you’re likely to engage in distributive bargaining. You want the lowest price possible, while the salesperson wants to maximize their profit. The negotiation revolves around the price of the car, and finding a middle ground that satisfies both parties can be challenging.

#3 – Divorce Settlements: 

When a couple goes through a divorce, the division of assets can be a classic example of distributive bargaining. Both parties have an interest in obtaining as much as possible from the shared assets, such as property, savings, and investments. The negotiation aims to divide these resources fairly, considering the legal framework and the interests of each spouse.

In each of these examples, distributive bargaining involves parties striving to maximize their share of a finite or limited resource.

Strategy and Tactics Of Distributive Bargaining

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In distributive bargaining, where resources are limited and competitive, having a well-thought-out strategy and employing effective tactics can make all the difference in achieving your desired outcome. Let’s delve into the key strategies and tactics used in this type of negotiation:

#1 – Anchor Your Position: 

The first offer often serves as an anchor, influencing the negotiation’s direction. If you’re the seller, start with a high price. If you’re the buyer, start with a low offer. This sets the tone and allows room for concessions.

#2 – Set Your Reservation Point: 

Keep your reservation point – the lowest or highest acceptable offer you’re willing to accept – to yourself. Revealing it too early can give the other party an advantage by knowing your limits.

#3 – Make Strategic Concessions: 

When making concessions, do so selectively and strategically. Avoid giving away too much too quickly. Gradual concessions can signal flexibility while preserving your position.

#4 – Use the Flinch: 

When presented with an offer, employ the flinch tactic. React with surprise or concern to make the other party question the fairness of their offer. This may prompt them to improve their proposal.

#5 – Information is Power:

Thoroughly research the subject matter and the other party’s position. Knowledge is a valuable weapon in distributive bargaining. The more information you have, the better equipped you are to negotiate effectively.

#6 – Create Deadlines: 

Time pressure can be a valuable tactic. If you’re negotiating a contract, for instance, setting a deadline for the deal’s conclusion can push the other party to make quicker decisions, potentially in your favor.

Image: freepik

#7 – Use Limited Authority: 

Claim that you have limited authority to make decisions. This can be a powerful tactic, as it creates the impression that you’re not the final decision-maker. It may encourage the other party to offer more to gain approval from someone with higher authority.

#8 – Good Cop, Bad Cop: 

If you’re negotiating as a team, consider the good cop, bad cop approach. One negotiator takes a tough stance, while the other appears more conciliatory. This can create confusion and encourage concessions.

#9 – Walk Away When Necessary: 

Be prepared to walk away from the negotiation if it’s clear that the other party isn’t willing to meet your minimum requirements. Sometimes, leaving the table is the most powerful tactic.

Key Takeaways 

Distributive bargaining is a valuable skill to have in your arsenal. Whether you’re haggling at a flea market, negotiating a salary increase, or closing a business deal, understanding the strategies and tactics of distributive bargaining can help you secure the best possible outcome for yourself or your organization.

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What is distributive versus integrative bargaining?

Distributive Bargaining: This is like dividing a pie. Parties compete over a fixed resource, and what one side gains, the other may lose. It’s often seen as win-lose.

Integrative Bargaining: Think of this as expanding the pie. Parties collaborate to find creative solutions that increase the overall value of the resources being negotiated. It’s typically a win-win.

Is distributive bargaining a win-win?

Distributive bargaining is generally not a win-win. It often leads to a win-lose scenario where one side’s gain is the other side’s loss.