Negotiation is a studied subject.  Studies have shown that most productive negotiation results in what is referred to as a "win-win" result.  Differing definitions exist for "win-win".  Generally, it means a result where both parties get some benefit from the negotiation and not a total breakdown which is most typically called a "lose-lose" result.  A lose-lose conclusion is where neither party gains anything and the situation remains status quo.  This paper discusses lose-lose negotiations in detail because lose-lose has historically not been discussed in detail.  Considering the numerous articles concerning win-win negotiations, I will not examine that subject in detail except to recognize it as a desired outcome. 


Negotiation is as old as the Bible.  Three situations immediately come to mind.  Abraham, Job and Judas.  
Abraham negotiated with Yahweh to save Sodom if Abraham could find as many as ten righteous men (Gen 18:24-32).  Satan negotiated with Yahweh concerning Job (Job 1:12).  Judas Iscariot negotiated with the Chief priests (Matt 26:15) for 30 pieces of silver. We would have a difficult time identifying these negotiations as win-win or lose-lose.

From an historical viewpoint we should mention Socrates and Thomas More.  Socrates would not repudiate his beliefs and teachings nor negotiate for his life.  He voluntarily drank the poisoned Hemlock.  Thomas More would not take the Oath of Supremacy and was beheaded.  Again we would need to define win or lose for these two situations.

Negotiation strategies are well known.  There have been many books and papers written about negotiation techniques and strategies.  I took the IBM Negotiation course in the late 1980's.  IBM said that everything they taught was moral, legal and ethical. That was their first lie.  The bottom line was to purchase parts and services at the lowest cost, nothing else mattered.  Take a 5, give a 3 or better yet give nothing, was their agenda.

I have never seen any negotiating course discussing the concept of lose-lose.  Donald Trump has written a famous book, "The Art of the Deal."  Although I have not read the book, implicit in this title is a win-win outcome where both parties come to an agreement that gives at least some benefits to each party.

The most difficult situation is negotiating with a person who pursues or is not afraid of a lose-lose conclusion.  There is no "carrot" nor "stick" big enough to get a change in their mind or in their perspective.  I have studied negotiation strategies for most of my life and no one to my knowledge has ever written on lose-lose negotiations.  A person who pursues a lose-lose strategy will just say 'NO' and will not change his/her mind nor negotiate further.  This is also a long known negotiation technique in an attempt to get a better deal. The risk is of course that all negotiations come to an end and the consequence is a lose-lose result.

As a general statement, I would say that any person, business etc. who pursues a lose-lose strategy is in a very weak or inferior position.  If they give in then they might have nothing left.  You don't extricate yourself from a hole by digging it deeper.   A person who owns several homes for example is more likely to compromise on a sale because he has other financial backup.  A person with little or nothing has his back to the wall and simply can't compromise at all because he might end up with nothing.  Lose-lose actors may be signaling their generally weak positions in their refusal to bargain or compromise.  Actors who are perceived to be weak need to have win-win solutions at all costs and that is why a lose-lose player will always be in that position for the rest of his/her life.  The only possible hope in dealing with a lose-lose person is that that person will ultimately realize that there are only so many days in life and that continuing in that lose-lose course is a defeat, if not via the other negotiator then by Father Time.

The act of negotiating is also important.  If one party irritates or insults the other party, it does not really matter if the irritation is accidental, cultural or intentional, the other party may become more resistant to a win-win solution.   

Sometimes one party bullies, threatens or extorts a conclusion which is called win-lose.  Heads, I win and Tails, you lose. The losing party disproportionately loses relative to the winning party.  Generally win-lose conclusions convince the weaker or losing party to change their situation or negotiating skills in the future. Changing the situation might require hiring or firing workers, building a new plant in a new location, amending a legal complaint, negotiating with different parties or changing technology or suppliers.


Newton's first law says that a body in motion stays in motion unless acted upon by an external force. Ironically negotiations also follow basic laws and are no different. A lose-lose person will continue to lose and a win-win person will continue to win. That is the law of nature.  

The most extreme case of a lose-lose negotiation is that of a person trying to get another to stop attempting suicide.  The other person has made up their mind and is highly unlikely to change their attempt.  For them winning or "success" means committing suicide and losing means staying alive.  We could say that winning or losing are matters of attitude or belief -- both of which are utterly subjective.

Another very difficult situation is hostage negotiation.  The hostage taker knows that if he relents or if he kills the hostage, that he has absolutely no power to protect himself nor any power to affect any ensuing conditions of his life or death.  The negotiator knows that if he fails to capture the hostage-taker or if he kills the hostage, a lose-lose situation is an automatic consequence and that he might be blamed for the failed negotiations. Frankly, hostage negotiators are typically skilled in deceit in that they promise what they have no authority to do, i.e. legal charges and dismissals.  This is not a "promise her anything but give (meaning purchase) her Arpege" situation.

Probably the worst example of hostage negotiations occurred in September 1971 at the Attica State Prison in New York with Republican Governor Nelson Rockefeller ultimately in charge.  

On September 9, 1971, two weeks after the killing of George Jackson at San Quentin State Prison, about 1,000 of the Attica prison's approximately 2,200 inmates rioted and took control of the prison, taking 42 staff hostage.  
During the following four days of negotiations, authorities agreed to 28 of the prisoners' demands, but would not agree to demands for complete amnesty from criminal prosecution for the prison takeover or for the removal of Attica's superintendent. This is the general prison attitude of most prison authorities that the cops have absolute authority over the convicts as the convicts are utter trash.  By the order of Governor Nelson Rockefeller, state police took back control of the prison. When the uprising was over, at least 43 people were dead, including ten correctional officers and civilian employees, and 33 inmates. Only one death could be attributed to the prisoners.  Rockefeller never again ran for office after Attica.  He was appointed Vice President in 1974 in spite of one of greatest colossal mistakes in US history.  Who says that money does not talk or that crime does not pay?

OK, the year is 2017 and the world is on the verge of World War Three.  There has never been a greater need in all history for skilled negotiations to avoid at all costs a lose-lose nuclear world war.  Russia and the United States should not be friends, they should be allies.  Being allies would be a win-win solution.  World War Three would be the greatest lose-lose consequence of all time.  How should Trump negotiate with Chinese leader Xi Jinping, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un or Putin for example?  With great skill, can be the only answer.    I would criticize Secretary of State Rex Tillerson for having made belligerent comments regarding North Korea and for suggesting that regime change was being worked on in Syria.    Those comments are unnecessary as the whole world knows about US nuclear power and missiles and they give Kim Jong Un a further excuse to show how tough he is.

On April 6, 2017, Donald Trump ordered missiles to attack an airbase in Syria that allegedly was the origin of Sarin gas attacks on Syrians.  This was lose-lose at its worst.  Russia immediately disconnected a hotline between Moscow and Washington.  After all, if a phone line cannot stop a missile attack between the US and Russia's ally, then what good is it.  Russia has a major port facility and air base on the Mediterranean in Tartus, Syria.  For centuries Russia has sought warm water ports.  There is no way that Putin is going to give those facilities up or allow them to become less secure.  Trump has only been in office a few months and he has already successfully destroyed US - Russia relationships.  Ironically on April 6, 1917, exactly 100 years antecedent,  the US declared war on Germany and entered WWI.

Ideologically driven parties --  People driven by ideology, most typically religious and political figures are extremely hard to negotiate with.  Their attitude is all or nothing at all.  John Hus, Giordano Bruno, Martin Luther, Thomas More, Kamikaze and suicide bombers are examples.  Typically their victory comes after their death.  There is simply no way to negotiate with a person driven as such. 

In the 1980's I bought a used car from an automobile dealer.  Two weeks after I bought the car we finalized upon the price.  This unusual situation was not unlikely when both parties perceive the other party as reasonable and responsible.  This was a classic win-win solution to an historic problem, namely the purchase of a used car.

In spite of his reputation, I do not view Donald Trump as a particularly savvy negotiator.  Trump's greatest failure was the initial failure of the Health Care replacement bill in the US House. Instead of keeping his promise to Repeal and Replace, repeal first and then replace, he decided to get stuck in complex negotiations with a small chance of success.  Complex negotiations with multiple goals and threats are always more difficult to bring to a win-win result rather than a simple negotiation with fewer clear objectives for both sides.  While the bill later passed the House on a 217-213 (4 May 2017) vote, its final acceptance is far from assured.  It will require a Senate approval and then a House-Senate reconciliation and then successful votes again in both the House and the Senate before the bill goes to Trump for final approval.  At the present time, May 6, 2017, I would give the bill a very slim chance of ever passing until Trump and Ryan go back to basics and fully repeal Obamacare (Mo Brooks of Alabama plan)  before they start to create a successful plan. In the meantime, the political situation in the US will change and no one knows in what manner or direction. 

Trump's historic approach is to threaten as hard as he can and see what he gets instead of being fair.  This is a classic MBA approach.  Get the most from your employees and everyone else.  He bobbled a golf course land acquisition deal in Scotland. The Scottish landowner just walked away from the negotiation and left a very bad taste for Donald Trump in the mouths of the Scots.

I recently negotiated with a contractor over a residential wooden deck that was rotting.  He could probably have fixed the problem for say $2000 as the building supplier would replace the wood and screws under warranty.  His refusal to remedy the problem was unacceptable.  I told him that I would seek a remedy in the courts if we could not agree.  I am sure that he thought that I was bluffing. The contractor refused further negotiation and threw me off of his property. We have now been in Court for at least 5 months and we will probably not be finished for another six. The negotiation continues not on a front porch in the Sun but in the Courts. You can see the complaint under Knats Creek Nursery on this website.  I am sure that his $300/hr. lawyer legal costs alone at present are probably in excess of $10,000.  He had no idea that I had gone to law school and stay abreast of legal procedures even though I am no longer active.  Regardless of the legal settlement, the deck will never be right.  This is a classic lose-lose situation and he is learning about extended negotiating techniques.  

Russell Walker



NEGOTIATION LOSE-LOSE