The Rhetorics of Negotiation

Gerald B. Wetlaufer

University of Iowa – College of Law

July 23, 2005


This article offers a framework for understanding negotiations in terms of several distinct and coherent «rhetorics» (or sets of speech acts). These are (1) the rhetoric of distributive bargaining (haggling); (2) the rhetoric of integrative or «win-win» bargaining; (3) the rhetoric of argument, including formal legal argument; (4) the rhetorics of selling and threatening; (5) the rhetorics by which one party might seek to manage the other’s understandings of the parties and their situation; (6) the rhetoric of narrative; and (7) the rhetoric of reciprocity. In this way, the author seeks to identify and explain the full range of speech acts that may simultaneously bear upon the conduct and the outcome of negotiations. The author departs from existing literatures that divide the universe of possible negotiations according to their particular characteristics (e.g., zero-sum v. non-zero-sum games); identify alternative styles or approaches among which negotiators must choose (e.g., competitive v. cooperative, win-lose v. win-win); or argue that one such style or approach is ethically or instrumentally superior to another. The author’s argument draws on the literatures of rhetoric, communications and argumentation; economics and game theory; sociology, social psychology, anthropology and literary theory; political and diplomatic history; labor management relations; the manuals for criminal interrogation; and six centuries of self-help books. It also draws on Virgil’s Aeneid and Shakespeare’s Henry V and Othello; on the propaganda films of Leni Riefenstahl and Frank Capra; and on To Kill a Mockingbird, Lawrence of Arabia, The Godfather, The Untouchables, The Tin Men and A Pretty Woman.

The Rhetorics of Negotiation

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