The Negotiator Magazine

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People who want more when they negotiate tend to get more and individuals who don't want much generally don't get much. One of the best students I ever had told me that whenever he received a negotiation exercise, he tried to determine the best deal he could hope to achieve for his side. He then added some things until his position seemed unreasonable. He then worked to defend his seemingly unrealistic position until he became comfortable defending it. Only then did he begin to interact directly with his opponents. Week after week he cleaned his adversaries out. At the conclusion of the term when we discussed the most successful bargainers, several of his opponents indicated that he was not really that good a negotiator. They said that when they got down to the end of their interaction, he seemed so sure he was right, they thought maybe they were wrong. In one sentence, they succinctly defined the art of negotiating.

By developing a solid and beneficial aspiration level and convincing himself that he deserved what he was seeking, this person was able to obtain optimal results for himself. The confidence he exuded induced less confident opponents to accept his assessment and move in his direction. This is a factor I have observed in all of the students who have done well in my classes over the past thirty years. They are able to establish good aspirations and defend their positions forcefully.

When individuals prepare for bargaining encounters, they need to gather all of the relevant information and begin to ask themselves how well they could realistically hope to do. When in doubt, they should reach a little higher, remembering that no one can hope to achieve more than they think they can attain. They have to be especially careful when setting their aspiration level. If they set it too low, they will achieve less beneficial results than they could have achieved. On the other hand, if they begin with wholly unreasonable objectives, they may either turn off their opponents and cause them to lose interest from the outset or generate nonsettlements that could have been avoided had they had more realistic goals.

When setting their aspiration levels, negotiators must not only consider their own side's circumstances, but also those of the other party. How much does that side need to achieve a deal? What happens to that party if they fail to reach any agreement? If that side's nonsettlement options are worse than this side's alternatives, this side possesses greater bargaining power. What bargaining leverage does that side possess, and what are their goals likely to be? If they think that party will set modest objectives, they should plan to exploit this weakness by convincing that side that they can't hope to achieve too much.

The second part of my questionnaire concerns how the participants feel once they have reached agreements. I find the information provided by the answers to this question especially revealing. Claimants who have achieved the most beneficial deals think they are average or below average, while those who have attained the least beneficial terms think they are average or above average. Why? Those who wanted outstanding deals - $4 or $5 million - are disappointed that they were only able to get $1.5 to $2 million. On the other hand, the individuals who only hoped to get $1 million are especially pleased with anything over $750,000. The students on the defense side tend to have a more realistic picture, since they realize that they would have to pay something. Nonetheless, the defendants who thought they would have to pay at least $1 million tend to be pleased with anything under $1.2 or $1.3 million, while those who hoped to pay no more than $600,000 or $700,000 are disappointed with anything over $1 million.

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October 2005