Using Force Field Analysis in Negotiation Planning
James L. Patterson, Ph.D., C.P.M., A.P.P., Associate Professor of Management
Western Illinois University – Quad Cities
90th Annual International Supply Management Conference, May 2005
Abstract. Professional negotiators have long sought more efficient and effective tools and
techniques to provide a competitive advantage at the negotiating table. Using the long-
established and wel -recognized technique of force field analysis (FFA), which has its roots in
the field of psychology, a new application is developed to assist negotiators in preplanning and
implementing successful negotiation strategies. A brief background of FFA is presented,
fol owed by a description of how this change management technique can be effectively utilized
to facilitate the pre-negotiation planning phase, resulting in more favorable negotiation results
and outcomes. FFA can be successful y used to identify, analyze, and prioritize the influencing
forces driving and opposing a negotiation settlement and their potential effects in order to
develop appropriate negotiation strategies and tactics in order to maximize positive influences
and mitigate negative ones.
Background. Negotiation is something that al people, personal y and professional y, perform
daily in a wide variety of settings. Children negotiate with their parents. Buyers negotiate with
suppliers. Governments negotiate trade agreements and political pacts with other countries.
Labor negotiates with management. Even though the context may vary depending on the
situation, many of the basic elements of negotiation are general y consistent. Each negotiating
party has something that the other party needs or wants.
Negotiation has been defined in a number of ways. “Negotiation is a basic means of getting
what you want from others. It is back-and-forth communication designed to reach an
agreement when you and the other side have some interests that are shared and others that
are opposed” (Fisher et al, p. xvi ). “[B]argaining is like the competitive haggling over price that
happens during a yard sale or flea market, whereas negotiation is a more formal process that
occurs when parties are trying to find a mutual y acceptable solution to a complex conflict”
(Lewicki et al, pp. 5-6). “Negotiation is a decision-making process by which two or more
people agree how to al ocate scarce resources” (Thompson, p. 2).
As can be seen in the above definitions, conflict, or the presence of opposing interests, is at
the very center of any negotiation. Conflict, therefore, can be defined as a condition of the
relationship between the parties in which one or more of the parties’ expectations regarding
the relationship are not being achieved or are reasonably not expected to be achieved in the
foreseeable future. Negotiation involves seeking information regarding the other party’s stated
position and the interests underlying them through an iterative process of discovery and due
The problem is that only one side in a negotiation has “known” information; the needs, wants,
and interests of the other side must be assumed and estimated, hence the basis of the conflict
between the parties. For many negotiators, the requisite skil s to identify and resolve this
inherent conflict are neither readily apparent nor easily recognized. This requires that an
effective negotiator engage in significant preparation activity and fact-finding prior to the actual
negotiation in order to develop appropriate and useful data to offset this lack of knowledge of
the other party. Failure to do so can be catastrophic to the outcome of the negotiation.
Paraphrasing a principle commonly espoused in real estate, the three most important things in
any negotiation are: preparation, preparation, and preparation. However, for a host of reasons
most negotiators find it difficult to devote the time necessary to prepare adequately (Shel ).
Therefore, negotiators seek out those tools and techniques that al ow them to more effectively
utilize the preparation time and effort they do have in order to reach acceptable negotiation
This paper suggests one such useful technique, force field analysis, to accomplish this. The
basic premise of FFA is that, for every actual or perceived outcome in a negotiation, there are
certain forces or influences that drive or promote the desired outcome, while there are other
forces that serve to resist, alter, or delay the desired outcome. FFA is essential y a derivative
of Newton’s second law which states “That for every action there is an equal and opposite
reaction.” Using FFA can help the negotiator anticipate missing information and prepare
appropriate strategies to uncover and/or confirm it.
One can easily think of negotiation as a change management process. Successful y
negotiated outcomes often require the parties to change their stated positions or reconsider
their underlying interests in order to reach a favorable settlement. To effectively manage this
process, one should consider undertaking the fol owing series of steps when working towards
the desired outcome(s). To accomplish change effectively, the negotiator must also consider
the key stakeholders that wil natural y be affected by any negotiated agreement. FFA can be
an effective preparation tool to consider the forces driving and resisting attainment of the
desired outcome, as wel as their possible effects on the negotiation process and the parties
involved with or affected by the agreement.
General y accepted change processes include three stages or sets of activities (Evans and
Lindsay). These serve as the basis for using FFA as an effective change management
technique. First, the existing state of affairs (or baseline case) must be established, and the
desired state or outcome needs to be clearly defined, in addition to identifying those forces
favoring the change and those opposing the desired state. The next set of activities involves
managing the inherent resistance that is likely to be encountered while seeking the desired
negotiated outcome. Lastly, this desired outcome (agreement) must then be institutionalized
and perpetuated by getting the other party to commit to and fol ow up on what was agreed.
People resist change for three primary reasons. The first is uncertainty. When a negotiated
proposal is put forth, it likely threatens the status quo of the relationship with ambiguity and the
unfamiliar. Since change causes deviation from the known or expected, the other party may
react negatively and resist the change. The second cause of resistance to change is
concerned with the risk of losing something of value to which the negotiator already has
access. The greater the perceived risk within the status quo, the greater resistance that wil be
exhibited by the other party. The final cause of resistance to change refers to the negotiator
believing that the proposed change wil not be in the best interests of the negotiator’s
organization or relationship between the negotiators. Incompatibility with the negotiator’s
organizational beliefs, norms, resources, or procedures wil lead to resistance to the proposed
Description of the FFA Technique in Negotiation. Force field analysis is essential y a visual
representation of the forces favoring or opposing a specific change or a method of weighing
the various pros and cons of a preferred negotiation outcome on a given issue. In the FFA
model, a force is defined as the representation of the various influences, i.e., personal,
interpersonal, situational, and environmental, that surrounds the interaction between the
negotiating parties, not any physical manifestation.
Al negotiation situations can be viewed as being in temporary equilibrium, a delicate balance
between driving and opposing forces. A negotiation attempts to adjust or mitigate the balance
between these forces to move towards an acceptable outcome to which al parties can agree.
A successful outcome on any given negotiated issue (i.e., change) involves ensuring that the
driving forces outweigh the opposing forces or barriers (see Figure 1) in such a way that the
preferred outcome (or a new state of equilibrium) is achieved (Moody). Various negotiation
influence strategies and tactics can then be employed to build up or support the driving forces
while eliminating or mitigating the opposing forces from the other side of the negotiation.
The Basic Force Field Analysis Diagram
Driving and restraining forces in a commercial negotiation setting could include such external
or situational influences as change in the marketplace, time available, relative economic power
of the negotiating parties, general y known or third-party verified facts, and visibility of the
negotiation to key stakeholders. Interpersonal or individual influences could include the
negotiator’s personality type, position in the organization, physical presence, reputation, age,
experience, gender, personal power, or team membership if a negotiating team structure is
How to Use FFA to Prepare for a Negotiation. Using the FFA technique al ows a negotiator
to identify and focus on what forces support a given issue and what forces resist it. It is very
useful in addressing the subjective issues typical y found in a negotiation and determining what
appropriate strategies, tactics, and information are likely to work to reach the desired outcome
for that issue. However, a negotiator must realize that the other party also has its driving
forces pushing for its own preferred outcomes and needs to anticipate and prepare for them.
Effectively using FFA involves a series of steps for each negotiation issue. The greater the
number of negotiation issues, the greater the number of driving and opposing forces that must
be considered. Note that each individual issue can have its own FFA. First of al , the
negotiator must identify and clearly state the current situation, baseline case, and desired
outcome. Be specific, and write it down. Then the negotiator needs to identify each of the
forces that is either driving or resisting the proposed outcome. Thirdly, the negotiator must
analyze each force thoroughly, asking the fol owing questions. “Is the force valid?” “What is
the impetus (interest) underlying the apparent force?” “How could it be changed or
Once this identification process is completed, the negotiator must then determine the relative
strength of each force (driving and opposing) using a Likert-type (from 1 to 7) or a low-
medium-high scale to determine the relative importance or priority of each force. Here, the
FFA’s graphical representation of the various forces is useful in helping the negotiator visualize
both the positive and negative influences that are likely to affect each negotiation issue faced
at the table, as wel as their relative strength or influence. In Figure 1, larger, longer, and/or
wider arrows represent the strength of each force.
Figure 2 is an example of some of the various driving and opposing forces that could be faced
in a typical supplier performance negotiation between a buyer and a supplier. The same kind
of analysis can be applied in virtual y any kind of commercial negotiation. In this case, one can
easily see the most important and/or critical forces that must be addressed if the desired
negotiated outcome is to be achieved. Point A represents the status quo or current condition
where the supplier’s on-time delivery performance of 75% needs improvement. Point B
represents the desired on-time delivery performance level of 95%. Note that the negotiator
must consider the actual positions that may be presented at the table, as wel as their
underlying interests, when analyzing the various forces.
Once the negotiator has listed and adequately analyzed each of the driving and opposing
forces for a given issue, he/she should then develop appropriate strategies to either bolster or
increase the driving forces while reducing or mitigating the opposing ones. One of the benefits
of FFA is that the visual diagram al ows the negotiator to easily summarize al of the various
influences facing a given issue in a negotiation. It also serves as a written reminder of the
predetermined goals and objectives to the negotiator during the negotiation itself. As new
information is uncovered during the process of negotiating, it is not difficult to update the FFA
FFA for Supplier On-Time Delivery Performance Negotiation
Inadequate IS support
Inventory reduction efforts
Performance bonus system
3rd party carrier performance
Temporary road construction
Current - 75%
Desired - 95%
However, there are several caveats that the proactive negotiation planner must consider in
order to effectively use the FFA technique. For example, the negotiator must ensure that al
significant forces and influences (both positive and negative) are included. This may involve
some type of cross-functional, team-based brainstorming session to adequately flesh out al of
the relevant influences affecting the negotiation. Omitting even one can have deleterious
effect on the proposed outcome.
Likewise, simply bolstering the existing driving forces can strengthen existing or develop new
restraining forces. Therefore, it is very important to find the appropriate strategies and tactics
needed to reduce the restraining forces rather than just simply overpowering them. Since
negotiation is always between people, one must always consider the reactions of the other
negotiator when developing strategies and tactics to deal with these forces. Developing FFA
skil s can make any negotiator better prepared and more confident because of the greater
knowledge of the circumstances and other party that are developed through the planning
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