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Negotiation Theory and Practice. A Review of the Literature. EASYPol Series 179

“Pure” conflict defined as the existence of competing interests between parties in absence of interests that are shared, is an anomaly in international relations where the defining feature of the relationship between states is mutual dependence. Such was the observation of Thomas Schelling, noted international economist, during the height of the Cold War. In the decades that have since transpired, globalizing developments in technology, communications, finance and trade have given rise to a world in which citizens, organizations and governments engage in millions of trans-national interactions on a daily basis. In the modern age, the need for developing mechanisms and skills to manage daily exchanges has grown, as has the necessity for smoothly navigating through the impasses that arise when the satisfaction of one nation’s interests, values or goals depend on the actions or intentions of another. At the national level, policies must address, and if possible, resolve tensions between the often divergent interests of an array of stakeholders. In the agricultural sphere these may include producers, consumers, business owners, laborers and environmental interest groups as well as both local and national governments. Governments must grapple with competing concerns related to environmental degradation, cultural preservation, or matters of economic interest, while also upholding national commitments related to international law and commerce.

It is unsurprising then, that in the decades since World War II and increasingly following the Cold War, a field devoted to negotiation theory has emerged. Thanks to contributions from scholars and practitioners across disciplines as varied as economics, law, international relations, psychology, mathematics and conflict management, a literature on negotiation now exists to help practitioners make better sense of the dynamics of negotiation.

FAO helps developing and transitioning countries to develop and modernize agriculture, forestry and fisheries practices and to ensure good nutrition for people of all nationalities. In support of these aims, the FAO also acts as a neutral forum where nations meet as equals to negotiate agreements and debate policy.

This paper was prepared in the framework of a capacity building programme that FAO organized to address major strategic issues and policy challenges for agriculture and rural development, in developing countries. The programme aimed at enhancing the capacity of senior officials by providing cutting-edge knowledge, facilitating exchange, and reviewing practical mechanisms to implement policy changes in a context where policy space is increasingly limited by regional and international agreements and treaties. Owing to the increasingly important role that negotiation plays in policy-making processes, policy experts are becoming more and more aware of the need for mainstreaming negotiation into the policy cycle. To address a demand to enhance participants’ knowledge of negotiation and related skills, the programme contains a component which instructs on the practice of negotiation through a combination of theory and practical application.

This paper is intended as reference material on negotiation. It presents an overview of the defining theoretical perspectives, concepts and methods that are central to the theory and practice of negotiation.

The paper is structured in the following manner. Section two discusses the relevance of negotiation to policy-making processes. Section three discusses the foundations of negotiation theory, introduces basic definitions and concepts, and provides an overview of some of the main schools of thought contributing to the existing negotiation literature. Section four provides an overview of the essential elements of principled negotiations, and section 5 concludes.

This paper is part of the FAO Policy series: EASYPol-Resources for policy making (in agriculture, rural development and food security). You can find other EASYPol series' resources in the Resources section of this website, typing "EASYPol" in the free text search.

Cungu, A., Alfredson, T.