Do nice negotiators tend to finish last — or “lose” more often — in their negotiations?
And if so, how can they protect themselves from this tendency and be more effective?
This is a central dilemma for many nice negotiators. When faced with an aggressive and competitive negotiator, should they try to compete back or use their naturally more cooperative approach?
Let me start by dispelling the myth that a cooperative approach leads to losing more often in all their negotiations. In fact, a more cooperative approach will often be more effective than a no-holds-barred competitive approach.
This especially is true over the long term in:
1. Negotiations between parties who want a future relationship. For instance, between family members and/or business partners.
2. In situations involving non-zero-sum issues, where more for one side is not necessarily less for the other, and where a creative approach will help both sides expand the pie.
Time for caution
However, there is a type of negotiation in which the cooperative approach often will put the user on the losing end of a win-lose deal. And it will be win-lose, not win-win.
What negotiations are those and what can cooperative negotiators do to avoid being exploited?
Overall, naturally cooperative negotiators need to be especially wary in situations in which:
1. Their counterparts don’t really care about a future relationship between the parties. For example, if you are buying a used car and the salesperson appears to be your friend, but really starts playing good cop/bad cop or using pressure tactics like imposing short deadlines.
2. Zero-sum issues dominate the agenda. When your counterpart is selling his company, wants to retire on the proceeds, and only cares about maximizing his all-cash sale price.
3. Their counterparts adopt an aggressive adversarial approach to the negotiation and view it through a win-lose/competitive mindset.
In these situations, what should cooperative negotiators do?
Initially evaluate the situation and determine if your more naturally cooperative approach — if reciprocated by your counterpart — would more effectively lead to your satisfying your goals.
Factors to consider include:
1. The value of your future relationship. The stronger the future relationship between the parties, the more a cooperative approach will be effective.
2. The number of issues. The more issues on the table, the more a cooperative approach will be effective.
3. The zero-sum nature of the issues. The more zero-sum the issues, the less effective a cooperative approach.
Reach into your toolkit
Based on these factors, if you determine a more cooperative approach works better but your counterpart appears competitive, reach into your negotiation toolkit and consider how you might get your counterpart to be more cooperative.
Tactics to consider, as discussed in William Ury’s book “Getting Past No: Negotiating Your Way from Confrontation to Cooperation,” include:
1. Stepping into their shoes, finding out why they are so competitive, and then taking action to defuse it.
2. Pointing out why it makes sense for them to be cooperative.
3. Educating them to the long-term negative consequences of their approach.
Of course, if you can’t get them to cooperate and/or you determine that a cooperative approach will be ineffective in that situation and there is some future relationship, use the following tactics:
1. Reciprocate their competitive — and cooperative — moves.
If they refuse to share strategic information, you refuse to share strategic information. If they make an extreme offer or concession, respond in kind.
But also respond cooperatively if they start to cooperate.
In addition, respond proportionately and don’t overreact. Otherwise, you might permanently poison your potential to achieve your long-term goal.
Overall, illustrate to your counterparts the positive and negative consequences of their behavior. By consistently using this tit-for-tat approach, researchers have found that parties will maximize their individual and total gain.
2. Occasionally extend a peace offering.
Studies also have found that you should occasionally extend a peace offering just in case you misread your counterpart’s moves and the negotiation degenerated into a cycle of retaliatory moves, helping no one.
Of course, don’t walk too far out on the plank. Just extend a little peace offering every third move or so and see if they reciprocate.
3. Consider using an agent.
Finally, some nice negotiators are just too personally uncomfortable with any competitive tactics, including using tit-for-tat.
If you fall in this category, which is just fine, don’t divert too far from your comfort zone. In those circumstances, consider hiring an agent or asking a friend to negotiate for you.
Otherwise, if you’re the nice guy or gal, you may just finish last.
Published June 3, 2005 The Business Journal