13 science-backed tactics for winning any negotiation

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

Fortunately for you, there are plenty of psychological tricks that can help you get what you want — especially when you start out as the person with less power.

Here, we rounded up some of the most practical and creative science-backed negotiating strategies.

Know your context

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

“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


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

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 behaviour

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 behaviour 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.

Offer a range slightly above what you hope to get

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 a salary range of $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.

Tell them something about yourself


In a 2002 experiment cited by Wharton professor 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 researcher 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.

Use a precise figure rather than a round number

You’ll probably sound like you know what you’re talking about.

That’s according to recent research, which found that dealmakers who present more precise offers (like $1.01 million) in mergers and acquisitions see more favourable outcomes than those who present round-number offers (like $1 million).

Specifically, those who make precise offers are more likely to win the negotiation, to have their initial offer accepted, and to see higher announcement returns.

Elicit your partner’s sympathy

When you’re the less powerful party in a negotiation, it can help to make the other person feel slightly bad for you.

That’s according to a recent study co-authored by researchers at the University of California-Berkeley’s Haas School of Business and New York University. During mock negotiations around salary and benefits, some participants were told to reveal they had student loans and an ill parent and others were told it was best to stick to rational arguments.

Results showed that students in the first group, who gained their partner’s sympathy, were more likely to get what they wanted. In fact, both parties walked away with a better deal in these situations.”

Emphasise what you’re giving the other person


And don’t focus on what the other person is losing.

A study conducted by researchers at Leuphana University and Saarland University in Germany explored this in a range of negotiations, including buying and selling used appliances.

In one experiment, participants were divided into buyers and sellers and asked to rate their partner’s proposal. In some cases, they received offers (e.g. ‘The seller offers the refrigerator for a price of €160,’ or, ‘The buyer offers a price of €160 for the refrigerator’). In other cases, they received requests (e.g. ‘The seller requests a price of €160 for the refrigerator,’ or, ‘The buyer requests the refrigerator for a price of €160’).

Results showed that both buyers and sellers were more likely to concede when the other person focused on what they were going to gain from the negotiation (offers), in contrast to what they were going to lose (requests).

Act in unpredictable ways

One study found that expressing inconsistent emotions throughout a negotiation can yield more favourable outcomes than staying emotionally stable.

In one experiment featured in the study, students role-played face-to-face negotiations for a new business venture. Half the students were told to express either consistent anger or inconsistent emotions. Those told to express anger said things like, ‘You’re beginning to get on my nerves,’ while those told to express inconsistent emotions also said things like, ‘I’m very happy we’re negotiating together.’

Results showed that students who expressed inconsistent emotions claimed greater value in the negotiations. And other experiments in which students alternated between anger and disappointment yielded similar findings.

The reason is likely because the partners of those expressing inconsistent emotions felt less control over the situation.

Interact through a virtual medium

According to research from Imperial College London, presented at the Annual Conference of the British Psychological Society, face-to-face interactions tend to favour the more powerful person in the negotiation.

In one part of the study, 74 people participated in two-sided negotiations in which one party was more powerful than the other; in another part of the study, 63 people participated in three-sided talks where the levels of hierarchy varied. These talks either took place in person or in a 3D virtual simulation.

Results showed that the less powerful people performed better in the virtual settings. So you may want to consider petitioning your boss for a higher salary or a flexible schedule over email.

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