Focal points and turning points in negotiation: a comparative analysis

Daniel Druckman, Valerie Rosoux

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


In this article, we examine the roles of focal points and turning points in negotiation. Both concern impasses in negotiation, and negotiators can exploit them to move past impasses. Each term uses the word "point" differently, however. A focal point refers to a single salient coordinating concept shared by the parties. A turning point is a departure that takes place during the course of a negotiation, when the course seems to change. Precipitants precede turning points and consequences follow them. In this article, we focus on the relationship of these two negotiation concepts. We raise the following questions: Does the development of focal points precipitate departures, and, if so, how? Do departures lead to the development of focal points, and, if so, how? Are there circumstances in which focal points do not precipitate turning points and vice versa? Do negotiations that feature focal points create more or less durable agreements? Do negotiations that include turning points create more or less durable agreements? To help answer these questions, we have analyzed four cases. In the German Foundation Agreement negotiation, the development of focal points precipitated turning points. In the South African Interim Constitution negotiations, turning point departures precipitated the development of focal points. And in the negotiations to end the Burundi civil war and to reach the Nouméa Accord between France and New Caledonia, parties shared focal points that did not precipitate turning points. These case analyses provide insights into the role of focal points in producing effective and durable agreements. They also suggest opportunities for further research on the interaction between these concepts.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)127-150
Number of pages24
JournalNegotiation Journal
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2016


  • negotiation
  • comparative case analysis
  • durable agreements
  • focal points
  • reparations
  • transitional justice
  • turning points


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