For years, people have been taught to ask for a specific number — rather than offering a range — when negotiating salary. But new research from Columbia Business School challenges that conventional wisdom.
Professors Daniel Ames and Malia Mason conducted a series of studies to gauge how people reacted to negotiators making a variety of offers, from bargaining with an event caterer to negotiating a salary. They found that range offers sometimes get better results than point offers (those that focus on a single number), and that they also allow the offer-maker to be seen as more “reasonable.”
“For years, we taught students to avoid making range offers in negotiations, assuming that counterparts receiving those offers would have selective attention, hearing only the end of the range that was attractive to them,” said Ames, co-author of the research, in a press release. “Our results surprised us, up-ending how we teach the topic. We can’t say that range offers work 100% of the time, but they definitely deserve a place in the negotiator’s toolkit.”
Here’s a chart showing the different types of offers (in this case, from a caterer), and their results:
The professors found that a “Bolstering Range Offer” is the best way to get what you want in a negotiation.
A Bolstering Range Offer is a strategy in which you start with the point and stretch in an ambitious direction, like asking for a “15% to 20% raise” instead of just a 15% raise.
Historically, most negotiation experts would have said this strategy was doomed to flop because the bargaining counterpart would hear only the 15% end of the range, they explain, but in contrast, Ames and Mason’s research found that Bolstering Range Offers frequently led to better settlements for the offer-makers without harming their relationship with the other party.
The worst type of negotiation, on the other hand, is the “Backdown Range Offer,” they found. This is where you start with the point offer and then go down to a more accommodating number, like asking for “12% to 15% raise” when you really want 15%. In this case, Ames and Mason’s research converged with the prior conventional wisdom: those using Backdown Range Offers ended up with less value than those using point offers, or Bolstering Range Offers, and didn’t see any relational benefits.
So there you have it: Offering a range is the key to getting the raise you deserve, only if the lower end of the range is what you really want.
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