Negotiation Skills: Turn Your Adversary Into Your Advocate – The Benefits of Seeking Advice

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Advice seeking inherently employs multiple self-presentation tactics (including ingratiation, self-promotion, and supplication), it allows us to improve both our competence and our likability. Think about the last time someone asked you for advice. How did you respond? You probably had at least one of these reactions:

- You offered thoughtful ideas to help solve the problem.
- You were flattered to be asked for your opinion.
- You tried to put yourself in the other person’s shoes.
- You felt invested in the person’s success.

These reactions generate goodwill and make advice seeking an effective negotiation strategy.

Let’s consider four possible benefits generated by requests for advice during negotiation.

1. Problem Solving

Most obviously, soliciting advice helps you find solutions to genuine problems. An advice request conveys interest in your counterpart’s ideas and encourages him to propose solutions you might never have considered.

Furthermore, advice seeking can disarm potentially defensive opponents. When you ask someone for advice rather than issuing demands or attacks, you frame your negotiation as a joint problem-solving task and establish a norm of collaboration. In one of our studies, when an individual was instructed to ask an opponent for advice during a dispute, the pair was more likely to reach an agreement that would foster a continued relationship and avoid legal action than pairs not instructed to ask for advice.

2. Flattery

Whether you’re seeking a resolution of a dispute, navigating a difficult performance review, or communicating your accomplishments, asking for advice will increase your likability our research shows. Does it matter if your counterpart likes you? Research demonstrates that likability better predicts hiring and other outcomes than perceived competence.

Asking a fellow negotiator for advice is an implicit endorsement of her opinions, values, and expertise. Furthermore, because advice requests signal respect, they are likely to flatter almost anyone. Subordinates who feel undervalued will probably be delighted to be solicited for their insights, and superiors are likely to appreciate your deference to their authority and experience.

3. Perspective Taking

When you ask a negotiation counterpart for advice, you may very well prompt him to look at the world from your vantage point.

In one study, we found that advice requests turned negotiators into better perspective takers. A powerful force in negotiation, perspective taking enables parties to understand each other’s underlying interests, find creative solutions, and avoid harsh attributions for behavior.

4. Commitment

“If you want advice, ask for money.” The corollary of this political maxim can be even more critical for success: “If you want money, ask for advice.” Savvy politicians seek advice to build relationships with constituents and potential contributors. Delivering advice requires a small amount of time, but it engenders a sense of commitment that can be invaluable.

People who make a small investment are more likely to make a larger investment later on, notes Robert Cialdini of Arizona State University. In a classic study from the 1960s, psychologists Jonathan Freedman and Scott Fraser found that asking people to sign a safe-driving petition a week before asking them to place and unsightly sign on their front lawn advocating driving safety increased compliance with this burdensome request.

At the bargaining table, it follows that a negotiator who is asked for and gives advice is much more likely to follow through on any agreement she helps create. This is especially true when you’re dealing with someone’s agent. When you ask an agent for advice, you hand her a degree of responsibility for your outcome and motivate her to advocate your cause to her principal, the ultimate decision-maker.

Learn how to negotiate like a diplomat, think on your feet like an improv performer, and master job offer negotiation like a professional athlete when you download a copy of our FREE special report, Negotiation Skills: Negotiation Strategies and Negotiation Techniques to Help You Become a Better Negotiator, from the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School.

Originally posted August 2012.

Related Article: Turn Your Adversary Into Your Advocate: How to Ask for Advice

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