Think Big Before You Negotiate

Written by khale Published in


As a former practicing attorney, I spent a lot of time learning about the art of negotiation. The lessons on successful negotiation were wide ranging. From the more familiar, "know your audience" and "understand what you bring to the table" to the less conventional, "keep your arms folded” and "do not wear bright colors.” Apparently hot pink does not go over well in negotiations.



There was one recommendation for effective negotiation that was given in every seminar I attended or book that I read: "identify what you want before you begin negotiating."

This advice is sound. If you go to the car dealer unsure whether you want a used Honda Civic or a brand new Honda Accord, you are more likely to be cajoled into the newer and more expensive option, regardless of whether it was what you wanted or needed. Identifying what you want from a negotiation at the start of the process can help to avoid disappointment – or worse - with the outcome.

Yet, I never was instructed on how to identify what it was that I wanted. In rare cases, the outcome may be obvious and non-negotiable, but in most cases the outcomes are much more wide ranging than you imagine. When you approach possible outcomes with too limited a mindset, you put ourself at a disadvantage from the get-go.

In the book Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work we can learn a more effective way to achieve the starting point to any negotiation. Decisive is the work of Chip and Dan Heath, who are the authors of the best-selling Switch and Made to Stick (both of which I highly recommend). In their most recent book, the Heath brothers tackle flaws in the decision-making process, including what they call "narrow framing." Narrowly framing the options available to you is, according to the Heath brothers, one of the "villains" of good decision making. Yet the tendency to engage in narrow framing is pervasive.

We tend to assess situations as “whether or not.” You are trying to decide whether or not to fire an employee who is not performing well. A consultant has offered you her services, and you need to decide whether or not you should hire her. You are trying to decide whether or not to let you partner open a company credit card.

The tendency to engage in “whether or not” thinking pervades corporate decisions, too. The Heath brothers discuss a study that found that in only a mere 29% of corporate decisions was more than one option considered. This finding puts corporate decision makers on par with teenagers. In another study that examined teenage decision making, the researchers found that 30% of the time, teenagers framed the decision (such as going to a party) as a whether-or-not choice.

The Heath brother approach challenges you to move out of this narrow thinking and widen your options. By consciously trying to move beyond the false limitation of whether-or-not choices, you can open up a range of outcomes. In Decisive, the authors offer a few concrete tactics for widening your framing, including the Vanishing Options test. Force yourself to image what you would do if one of the two options you were considered unexpectedly disappeared. What if that consultant had never approached you? How would you fulfill the services that she was offering? Do you really need them? Would you spend the money on something else? This process not only allows you assess the value of the whether-or-not scenario, but also to imagine other scenarios.

Widening your options can help you ensure that the outcome you are working hard for in a negotiation is the one that will serve you best. In getting to the outcome that you want, you can appear more conciliatory and forward thinking. Rather than drawing a bright line with a whether-or-not approach, you can bring something unexpected to the table. For example, asking the consultant to do a one-month trial of her services at a slightly higher rate rather than committing to the year-long engagement she typically requires. With your widened range of options, you will be ready to tackle any negotiation more successfully - even in a hot-pink blouse.

Kathleen Hale is a Founder and CEO of Rebel Desk, a company that designs and sells sleek and affordable standing and treadmill desks. Kathleen is on a mission to save the world - one desk-bound person at a time. After spending nearly a decade as a practicing attorney stuck in an office chair, Kathleen sought out alternatives to sitting. In doing so, she found how active working can change people's lives and became a passionate advocate for fighting back against the sitting culture. 
Find out more about Kathleen's company Rebel Desk at Reach out to Kathleen at Kathleen on Twitter at @KMSHale


Get To Know Us

Keep in Touch

Friend us on Facebook  Follow us on Twitter  Subscribe to our feed 

Get the Newsletter