In a negotiation with one big issue and numerous smaller ones, which should you tackle first? Consider the contrast principle (extensively addressed in Robert Cialdini’s classic book Influence: Science and Practice), which holds that if a second item is fairly different from the first, it will psychologically seem even more different.
Applying this, salespeople typically try to sell an expensive item first, say a suit or an automobile, because they know the buyer will likely then pay more for additional low price accessories than they would if they had bought the accessories first. After you have agreed to pay $25,000 for a car, an extra few hundred dollars for floor maps, etc., just doesn’t seem like that much, right? Starting with an inexpensive item can be problematic because it makes the expensive item seem even more expensive.
I thought of this in the context of the Mad Men television show contract negotiation where AMC has reportedly agreed on a two-year $30 million pay package with creator Matt Weiner. They are now negotiating over a small increase in commercial time and the possible cutting of a character or two, issues which, while important, likely involve smaller amounts than the pay package resolved first.