The Negotiator Magazine

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In many ways, this last point is the most difficult. How, after all, can we promote an air of finality and increasing rigidity in our offers and concessions, especially in the heat of a negotiation?

Start by understanding that your counterparts -- before you even open your mouth -- often already have certain expectations about how you will start and end the process.

One major expectation is that your "first offer" includes a substantial amount of value you will concede during the negotiation. Overall, many expect that parties will start with a lot of flexibility and end with relative inflexibility.

In most negotiations, this not only is an expectation but something you should incorporate into your offer-concession strategy.

In general, start by using words and phrases that signal significant flexibility, then signal middle flexibility (you have some room but are approaching the rigid point), and finally, when you've reached the end, use words signaling inflexibility.

What specific phrases should you use, and which should you avoid?

1. At the start, signal significant flexibility with these phrases: "My asking price is ..." and "I'm looking to get ..."

Be serious, straightforward and confident, especially at the start. And avoid any explicit mention of the phrase "first offer." That phrase undermines the validity of your offer.

Generally, avoid initially using words like "non-negotiable" or "best offer," unless you really mean it and will not make any further moves in the negotiation. Your credibility will take a hit if you use words like these and then move.

I only recommend using these words, if at all, at the very end. There, as noted below, you then are signaling total inflexibility.

2. In the middle, signal some flexibility with these phrases: "I'm willing to accept ... because ..." and "This is fair and reasonable because ..."

Again, be straightforward and factual. But don't overtly signal flexibility or inflexibility. Instead, send a strong, reasoned rationale and implicitly state: "I'm not going to move unless you give me a good reason to move."

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May/June 2005