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Demur, Defer, and Deter: Concrete, Actual Practices for Negotiation in Interaction

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Investigators use the term “negotiation” to cover activities ranging from those in hospitals and universities, to labor–management relations in industry, to political alignments in the global economy, and often approach negotiation in a general or abstract sense, as one possible means for jointly “getting things accomplished.” My conversation analytic approach is concrete: I discuss negotiations as talk that contains a bargaining sequence or set of such sequences whereby participants display a position or positions, often serially, until agreement is reached (success) or abandoned (nonsuccess). Bargaining sequences include a proposal and a response that aligns (acceptance) or one that does not align to the proposal (rejection). Interactionally, of course, these are not equivalent responses. A third kind of response is one that withholds acceptance or rejection and instead involves production of a counterproposal. I examine practices related to the bargaining sequence under the terms defer (postponing an occasioned next bargaining action), demur (withholding a tacitly implicated next bargaining action), and deter (using “projected reportable speech” to discourage a negotiator's expectations). Related to the latter practice, but opposite from deterring expectations, a practice for encouraging expectations is to animate speech in which the speaker as agent for the principals appears to urge those principals toward the coparticipant's position. The data for this study include recordings of a real estate case and plea bargaining episodes in a misdemeanor criminal court. I draw implications for the division between descriptive analysis and prescriptive analysis and for the general understanding of negotiations in a variety of arenas.
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Keywords: conversation analysis; interaction; negotiation

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2010-04-01

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