A Short History of Negotiation

This is an excerpt from a term project I did on negotiation recently. Though mostly written as an academic piece. I’ve tried to rewrite it in a more human-friendly form.

Negotiation might be as old as the human civilization. People used to trade goods with each other after all since the earliest of the days.  Sadly, very few little of the ancient history of negotiation is known now. Earliest documented negotiation can be traced back to third millennial BC, that’s 5000 years old. The earlier relations were regulated by an elaborate system of law, protocol and finance, and they negotiated numerous trades, dynastic marriages, military alliances and numerous other treaties.

Various diplomatic correspondence from the famous Amarna Tablets dated back to 1300 BC are some of the most comprehensive negotiation documented in the ancient times. Some familiar procedures and ploys found in the Amarna Tablets are still prevalent to this day. Some of the things noticed in the correspondence includes extravagant opening bids, deadlines, last-moment demands, dragging negotiation unnecessarily longer etc.

The Greeks and the Romans

According to British historian Sir Harold Nicolson, Greeks were the first to utilize the methods of negotiation in diplomacy. Diplomatic negotiations were mostly carried on in public largely due to the democratic spirit of early Greek civilization. The Romans further developed negotiation after the Greeks. Byzantine empire effectively survived due to their superior diplomacy. We have to keep in mind here, negotiation tactics was considered as a part of diplomacy during those times.

The Medieval Times

The most famous breakthrough incan be attributed to Niccolò Machiavelli and his infamous book, The Prince. While much of Machiavellian work lies in the morally grey(black would be fairer word) zone, the texts overlap a lot with the modern negotiation tactics. His texts possibly broke ethical barriers and such.

Baltasar Gracián was one of the earliest advocate of honor in negotiating practice in a time when power distance was large between the negotiators. François de Callières wrote a book named The Art of Diplomacy, which developed the idea of collaboration as a negotiating tactics. His core teaching in negotiation was that the two parties of the negotiation must collaborate to find their common goal which is still widely applicable.

The Modern History of Negotiation

In the later part of 19th century and the earlier part of the 20th century, power shifted to Russia, Italy and UK. Soviets were famous for undiplomatic, rude tactics and frequent breach of faith. On the other hand, Italy under Mussolini and Germany under Hitler employed more of a Machiavellian tactics.

Refusal to take peace talks seriously and use of brute force in negotiation is considered to be one of the key reason leading to Second World War. The cold war and other political issues led to many negotiating research. But one of the major changes the twentieth century was that negotiations were frequent in pure economic terms unrelated to diplomacy.

Contemporary Negotiation Theories

Modern negotiation theories were developed simultaneously in law schools and business schools. Early negotiation theories were based on game theory, international relations, and social psychology. Law schools mostly taught negotiations as one of the way settle the dispute outside the courtroom while business schools were focused on mostly sales and labor relations. Since the 1980s, law professors focused on various negotiation tactics, that can be applicable in aspects other than alternate dispute resolution.

During the mid-1980s, business schools realized that negotiation is applicable to broad day to day management and not only in the sales and labor relations. As a result, conflict resolution and negotiation began to become a norm in business schools.

Roger Fisher’s Getting to Yes was one of the most popular books in the early negotiation theory. Gerry Williams wrote about cooperative versus competitive negotiators in 1983. The shift in landscape from negotiation from a competitive tool to problem-solving tool was prevalent in these earlier texts. Cognitive or psychological barriers were first addressed by a group of psychologists and economists in the Barriers to Conflict. By the 90s, psychologists started focusing on the elements of persuasion.

By the early 2000s, negotiation training expanded to complex adaptive systems, anthropology, cognitive psychology, neuroscience, communication and more. Today interdisciplinary integration into negotiation theory is widely acknowledged as negotiation is not just a thing of diplomacy, business or law anymore.

If you’re interested to study negotiation (not as an academician that is), I would suggest these three books:

Have fun till the next time