Evidenced Based Tips for Effective Negotiation

Dr. Michele J. Gelfand, University of Maryland

I am passionate about negotiation and culture training, see some tips below! If you are interested in training on negotiation and/or cross-cultural management, please contact me for more information.

  • Know thyself and the other. Preparation is a vital part of the negotiation and collaboration process, yet many people fail to properly analyze their own and other’s perspectives prior to discussions. Time spent in preparation should focus on assessing your own interests, goals, and alternatives and those of your partner. The more complete the information you have about yourself and your partner, the more control you can assume over your own actions and reactions during the collaboration process and the better able you will be to craft win-win agreements. As you collaborate, ask questions to try to fill in gaps in the information you have and test the assumptions that you made.

  • Mind your metaphors. Metaphors are a basic mechanisms through which humans conceptualize experience, including negotiations (Lakoff, 1987). Metaphors are more than linguistic devices; they guide behaviors and can help or hinder negotiators trying to come to agreement. Competitive metaphors (e.g., games, battle, individual sports) are often unconsciously “in use” in negotiations and they make it very difficult to reach win–win agreements (Gelfand & McCusker, 2002). Get the parties to first agree on more a constructive metaphor to guide the process (e.g., problem solving metaphors such as a solving a puzzle or playing on the same team). In other words, negotiate the negotiation-- generate a shared metaphor to guide the process and it will be more productive.

  • Focus on underlying interests not positions. In negotiations, always focus on your underlying interests rather than on your position. Your position is something you have decided on (Lewicki et al, 2014). Your interests are what caused you to so decide on that position. Imagine two sisters are fighting for a big piece of an orange (their positions). But if they understand each others’ underlying interests, they might realize that one wants the peel to bake a cake and the other wants the pulp to eat. If they simply split the orange, they each would obtain a sub-optimal outcome. By understanding each of their underlying interests, they can better craft win-win agreements that are impossible to find if one is focusing on positions.

  • Beware of the fixed pie perception. Research has shown that negotiators often assume that their interests are diametrically opposed to their counterparts (Thompson & Hastie, 1990). Although some issues might be “win-lose” (my gain is the other’s loss; the other’s gain is my loss), many negotiations have an integrative structure wherein there are differences in the priorities individuals have on issues that can be traded off. For example, imagine a couple that wants to go on a vacation. The wife insists on going to a spa at the beach whereas the husband insists on going to a cabin in the mountains. Through discussion, they might discover that she prioritizes the spa and the location is a lower priority, whereas he prioritizes the mountains and the accommodations are a lower priority. By trading off on low priority issues—and going to spa in the mountains—they each get their high priorities (Pruitt, 1991; Thompson & Hastie, 1990). When negotiating, strive to add more issues and alternatives within each issue to the table.

  • Examine issues simultaneously, not sequentially. Research has shown that negotiators who focus on one issue at a time do much worse in achieving high quality agreements as compared to negotiators who propose package deals that involve multiple issues. Even when package deals are rejected, negotiators should inquire about high and low priority issues and offer different package deals. Try to notice patterns in the reactions to package deals to discern underlying priorities (Mannix, Thompson, & Bazerman, 1989; Weingart, Bennett & Brett, 1993).

  • Cooperative motivation plus high aspirations yields the best outcomes. Research has shown that having concern for your counterparts’ outcomes and your own outcomes simultaneously yields the best integrative agreements. Having high concern for one’s own outcomes and low concern for the other’s outcomes produces poor quality agreements (De Drue, Weingart, & Kwon, 2000; Pruitt & Rubin, 1986). When negotiating, parties should think about what makes them similar to each other and develop a superordinate identity, and at the same time, have high aspirations. This will enable them to construct higher quality agreements.

  • Get Psychological Distance. People construe events differently depending on their psychological distance from them. When thinking about events in the future versus the present, people emphasize the gist of the event rather than secondary, incidental features, and are less susceptible to being unable the see “forest for the trees” (Trope & Liberman, 2003). When negotiating, it is better to talk about a deal that will be taking place in the distant future (e.g., next year) versus in the near future (1 month). As temporal distance increases, negotiators are better able to negotiate higher quality deals (Henderson, Trope, & Carnevale, 2006).

  • View concessions objectively. Research has shown that negotiators devalue their counterparts’ concessions, thinking that “if it is good for them, it must be bad for me”. This was shown in a study wherein individuals at Berkeley were told that a concession had been made by either Gorbachev or Reagan. When they were told it was from Gorbachev, they thought it was more unreasonable. When they were told the identical concession was made by Reagan, they thought it was much more reasonable. Many negotiators fall prey to this bias. Aim to be objective, imagining what a neutral third party would think of a concession, and this will help foster better agreements (Stillinger et al., 1991; Ross, 1995).

  • Don’t inflate the self. Research has shown that negotiators consistently view themselves as better than their counterparts—i.e., as more fair, trustworthy, competent, and cooperative—and such judgments are seen as overly inflated by neutral observers. Self-serving biases predict competitive behavior, length of strikes, and impasses. Debias yourself by thinking about what makes your own behavior unfair and your counterparts’ behavior fair. Encourage your counterpart do to the same. You will likely strike a better deal (Babcock, Wang, & Lowenstein, 1996; Gelfand, Higgins, Nishii, Raver et al., 2002; Thompson & & Hastie, 1990)

  • Beware of power illusions. The power illusion bias occurs when people pick a bottom line that is based on the illusion of power instead of power that they actually have (Pinkley, 2008). Rational negotiators base their bottom lines in terms of the "real" consequence of no deal, or what is called a BATNA [Best Alternative To the Negotiated Agreement]. Instead of basing their bottom line on the value of their real BATNA like a rational negotiator, negotiators suffering from a power illusion base their bottom line on either a Phantom BATNA (an alternative that they think might exist in the future, although it does not exist today) or on a Ghost BATNA (an alternative that existed in the past but no longer exists). When negotiators fixate on power illusions, they refuse to recognize the reality of their bottom lines. As a consequence, they might turn down what could be a very reasonable deal (Conlon, Pinkley, & Sawyer, 2013). Negotiate power illusions and you will enhance the ability to reach agreement.

  • Generate strategies to help each party “save face”. Negotiators on both sides have to sell any agreement to their constituents. Think of ways that the agreement helps both parties to “win” and save face in the eyes of their constituents. Research also shows that putting others in a gain frame (i.e., communicating outcomes as something they are gaining versus losing), lowers others’ demands and makes them more cooperative (de Drue, Emans, & van de Vliert, 1992). Framing agreements as gains that one has won helps to save face and can help to gain constituent acceptance.

  • Limit the use of power and threats. In conflict, people tend to reciprocate negative strategies to a much greater extent than positive strategies, causing conflict to escalate rapidly when people use threats or appeal to their rights (Ury, Brett, & Goldberg, 1988). In a distressed system, individuals use a lot of power and rights strategies and very little focus on interests. In an effective system, individuals focus a lot on interests and use very few rights and power strategies. Always aim at getting back to interests, even in the face of threats and power strategies from others. If others are using rights and power strategies, a communications strategy that combines a reciprocated contentious communication with a cooperative communication (i.e., interests-based proposal) will help you get back to interests and be better able to manage disputes.

  • Get Physical Distance. If you are having trouble reaching an agreement, research suggests that you might be more successful if you conduct your deliberations outside of familiar territory. Consider taking a trip offsite for a change of atmosphere. Being monitored makes negotiators much more contentious and less likely to reach quality agreements, particularly when their groups have competitive motivations. Spending time away and holding deliberations in private will help foster flexibility, problem solving, and the identification of tradeoffs that are difficult if not impossible to find closer to home (Adams, 1976; Gelfand & Realo, 1999; Pruitt & Carnevale, 1993).

  • Cultivate Cultural Intelligence. Many people mistakenly believe that technical competence and general intelligence are all that is needed to be an effective negotiator. When negotiating across cultural boundaries, negotiators need cultural intelligence: They need to have high meta-cognitive CQ (what do they know about learning about a new culture), high cognitive CQ (knowledge about other cultures), high motivational CQ (self efficacy in diverse settings), and high behavioral CQ (ability to be flexible) (Earley & Ang, 2003). High CQ has been shown to be critical for developing high quality agreements in cross-cultural negotiations (Imai & Gelfand, 2010; Gelfand, Erez, & Aycan, 2007; Gelfand & Brett, 2004).


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