9 science-backed tactics for winning a negotiation

jordan negotiate argumentJonathan Daniel / GettyMichael Jordan was a master negotiator.

Whether it’s your salary or your cable bill, a lot of life is up for negotiation.

Here’s what works, according to the research.


Know your context.

Know your context.

Klaus M / flickr

Is the negotiation one-shot or long-term?

In “The Mind and the Heart of the Negotiator,” Kellogg management professor Leigh Thompson notes that the interaction between a customer and the waitstaff at a highway roadside diner is one of the few one-shot negotiations that happen in life — there’s little chance that patron or staff will see each other again.

But every other negotiation is long-term, with employment negotiations as a primary example. If it’s long-term, you need to manage not only monetary value, but the impression you’re making.

Make the first offer.

Make the first offer.

Andy Castro / flickr

It makes use of the anchoring effect.

If you start high, the hiring manager may adjust the figure down slightly. But that’s typically a stronger position than starting low and trying to negotiate up.

“Whoever makes the first offer essentially drops an anchor on the table,” Thompson tells Business Insider. “I might say that your opening offer is ridiculous, but nevertheless, unconsciously, I’ve been anchored.”

Make an aggressive offer.

Make an aggressive offer.

Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

Columbia University negotiation scholar Adam Galinsky says that people are overly cautious when making first offers.

On HBS Working Knowledge, Galinsky likens negotiating a salary to selling a house:

Take the perspective of the seller: more extreme first offers lead to higher final settlements…

High-anchor offers lead buyers to focus on a negotiated item’s positive attributes. In addition, an aggressive first offer allows you to offer concessions and still reach an agreement that’s much better than your alternatives.

In contrast, a nonaggressive first offer leaves you with two unappealing options: Make small concessions or stand by your demands.

Before you go in, know the lowest amount you’d accept.

Before you go in, know the lowest amount you'd accept.

Christopher Furlong / Getty

Scholars call it the “reservation value,” or the lowest amount you’ll take.

“We always hope to do better than our reservation values,” writes negotiation expert Chad Ellis, “but it’s important to know what yours is, both to avoid accepting a deal you shouldn’t have and as a reference point for how much a current deal is worth to you.”

Having a firm grasp of your reservation value is important from a psychological perspective: If you anchor it into your mind, you’ll be less anchored by the other person’s offer.

Mirror the other person’s behavior.

Mirror the other person's behavior.

Michael Coghlan / Flickr

When people are getting along, they mimic one another — mirroring each other’s accents, speech patterns, facial expressions, and body language.

A Stanford-Northwestern-INSEAD study found that people who were coached to mimic their negotiation partners behavior not only negotiated a better deal, but expanded the pie for both people.

“Negotiators who mimicked the mannerisms of their opponents both secured better individual outcomes, and their dyads as a whole also performed better when mimicking occurred compared to when it did not,” the authors wrote.

Emphasize your potential.

Emphasize your potential.

Michael Buckner / Getty

A Stanford-Harvard study recently cited on Marginal Revolution suggests that accomplishments aren’t what capture people’s attention — rather, it’s a person’s perceived potential.

“This uncertainty [that comes with potential] appears to be more cognitively engaging than reflecting on what is already known to be true,” the authors write.

Don’t demand a single number.

Don't demand a single number.

filmingilman / flickr

New research indicates that people respond best when given a “bolstering range offer,” where you state the number that you’re looking for — and a range above it. If you’re trying to get to a $100,000 salary, ask for $100,000 to $120,000.

Offering a range strikes people as more reasonable than standing firm on a single number, so you’re less likely to get hit with an extreme counteroffer, which suddenly become way less polite.

Tell them something about yourself.

Tell them something about yourself.

Jeff J Mitchell / Getty

In a 2002 experiment cited by Adam Grant, Northwestern and Stanford students were asked to negotiate over email.

Some went straight to business, exchanging only names and email addresses.

Others went off-topic, “schmoozing” about hometowns and hobbies.

The schmoozers reached an agreement 59% of the time, while the business-only made it 40% of the time.

Keep all your options on the table.

Grant also notes the work of Neil Rackham, who found that skilled negotiators don’t “sequence” the topics within a negotiation — they keep everything on the table.

So instead of saying “Let’s resolve the salary first, and then we’ll move on to the other issues,” you resolve the components of the agreement all together — location, vacation time, or signing bonus.

“By keeping all of the issues on the table, you have the flexibility to propose trading location and bonus for a bump in salary,” Grant writes.

While you’re at it, start winning arguments, too.

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