Distributive and integrative, sometimes called communicative, forms of negotiation are not so much strategies as they are states. These are two sets of “rules” for the negotiating game. They are very different and assume different sets of values, purposes and ends.
In any approach to social life, “justice” is a difficult concept. Aristotle defined “distributive justice” as the proper apportionment or allotment of certain goods such as money, position or honor. In terms of negotiations, this means the parties involved are trying to divide up a static amount of a certain good among themselves. As a “strategy,” it stresses competition in the race to gain as much of a limited good as possible.
Communicative or Integrative Ideas
In Aristotle's approach, integrative justice refers to the procedures agreed upon as to how laws are to be made. When transferred to the social compact or contract, it refers to the mode of cooperation in any undertaking. It assumes cooperation, whereas distributive justice assumes competition. Communicative or integrative justice is what the society has in common, the tradition from which it draws.
Distribution of a certain limited good is the purpose of distributive justice, bargaining or negotiation. It is a “zero-sum” game in that one gains only at the expense of others. It is a highly individualistic approach to justice that holds that the smartest and most industrious get the rewards, while the less diligent deserve their poverty. It is a regulated competition in which the parties involved want to maximize their returns in an adversarial context. In brief, as a strategy, it is a war of all against all.
Similar to the idea of justice, this kind of bargaining seeks to create, rather than to claim, some important good. Integrative justice is about the rights and duties of each actor in the life of a society, a firm or government. In many ways, this approach stresses the “ground rules” for distributive negotiation by holding who has the right to speak, write and interpret rules, laws and ideas. Its basic theoretical underpinning is that through cooperation, each actor gets more than he would get, on average, than if the actors fought each other.
Procedures and Results
Integrative bargaining is about procedures. The assumption is that an unfair procedure leads to unfair results. If a class of people is left out of the lawmaking in a society, chances are this group's interest will be overlooked. Distributive ideas are about the results of the integrative approach. It is possible that an unfair integrative approach can lead to fair results, or that a just and moral integrative idea will lead to distorted distributive results. For example, a society decides that it will give each adult one vote in electing lawmakers. However, the results turn out to be unfair because the bulk of these people live in cities. Only a small minority are farmers in rural areas, and, therefore, while the integrative approach seems fair, the results will reflect the cities and their biases. Therefore, the integrative strategy must change, and the countryside must be weighted to make it equal with the more populous cities.