Duncan Ross

Difficult conversation and the art of negotiation

By Duncan Ross.

Click here for the video summary.

Read the review by Dafydd Hammond-Jones.

Click here to view the speaker slides.

– Associate at Leeds University Business school Centre for Innovation in Health Management. Previously a GP who has worked in NHS clinical management in primary care development and commissioning and as deputy chief executive of a primary care trust

Reviewer – Dafydd Hammond-Jones Speciality Trainee Year 6 Emergency Medicine (EM) Leeds Teaching Hospitals Trust (LTHT)


Conversation and the art of conversation and bargaining techniques


Patterns in Difficult Conversations

Dr Ross talked about groups working together and their common interests. These interests may not be the same but there may be some overlap and this is what you should identify and then work for. Certain conversations and difficult and are often avoided, typically these are either contested conversation where people have strongly held opposing views, upset conversations, where 1 party is upset because of an action or repeated action that the other party has done, or bargaining conversation, where one party wants something that the other party is reluctant to give. When these conversations happen, people look at the wrong things, such as differences, assumptions, and stereotyping. You need to shift your perceptual position.


The Art of Bargaining

Negotiation is the art of bargaining and there are 5 principles:

  • Separate the person from the problem
  • Focus on interests not positions
  • Invent options for mutual gain
  • Insist on objective criteria
  • Know your BATNA (Best Alternative to a negotiated agreement)


When separating the person from the problem you are focusing on the goal. If the problem is the relationship, tackle that separately.

If you focus on interests rather than positions you may realise that you can both get what you need out of the same thing.

If you have objective criteria for the starting of negotiation such as fair standard and fair processes you are more likely to succeed.

If you get stuck, work together and invent new options that are not old options reworded.

Knowing your BATNA is important as it helps you understand how much power you have in a negotiation and may influence how you negotiate.


Dirty Tactics

Sometimes people use dirty tactics ‘stonewall’ (flat ‘no’), ‘attack’ (personal attack or threats), or manipulation (phoney facts, ambiguous authority, partial disclosure). If they do this, pause and do not react, name the game (use humour if possible, be firm if not), try to focus on the problem, and use your BATNA.



My take home message focus on the problem and common interests not the person, use options and know your BATNA.

I particularly liked the understanding of what BATNA is and how understanding it can help. I also liked how to recognise dirty tactics and how to deal with them. I am sure that if more people were aware of these techniques negotiations would have quicker and better outcomes.


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