The Negotiator Magazine

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Once negotiators are thoroughly prepared, they are ready to interact directly with the other side. The initial part of their encounter is the Preliminary Stage during which they establish their identity and the tone for the interaction. It is beneficial for negotiators to establish some degree of rapport with the persons they are dealing with, because people tend to offer better deals to individuals they find personally attractive compared to those they dislike. Studies also show that negotiators who begin their encounters in positive moods behave more cooperatively, reach more agreements, and achieve more efficient agreements than those who begin in negative moods. Negotiators should thus use the Preliminary Stage to create both beneficial personal relationships and positive environments.

Once the small talk of the Preliminary Stage concludes, the parties enter the Information Stage during which they work to discover each side’s underlying interests and objectives. The best way to accomplish this objective is to develop broad, open-ended questions that will induce the other party to talk. The more time they speak, the more information they disclose. Questioners need to listen for verbal leaks which inadvertently give away important information. For example, someone who indicates that she is “not inclined to go above” a certain number will do so. Someone who says that they “don’t have much more room” clearly has more room. They should also be aware of nonverbal signals that may be congruent with what is being said verbally, or which contradicts those statements. The contrary nonverbal signs are usually more trustworthy than the verbal messages, because most people find it easier to be deceptive verbally than nonverbally.

Different psychological factors should also be considered. Gain/loss framing indicates that persons facing a sure gain and the possibility of a greater gain or no gain tend to be risk averse and take the certain gain. On the other hand, people facing a sure loss and the possibility of a greater loss or no loss tend to be risk takers hoping to avoid any loss. It thus helps to frame offers as gains to the other side, to induce them to behave in a more risk averse fashion. Regret aversion suggests that people prefer to make decisions they are less likely to regret in the future. For example, a business owner considering a decent buyout offer is likely to accept that offer to avoid the possibility of having to sell for less and regret the fact she did not accept the earlier offer.

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May 2006