Business Negotiation Skills to Curb Your Overconfidence

Overconfidence is a common cognitive bias that can affect negotiators’ judgments in surprising ways.

By on / Business Negotiations

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To avoid the pitfalls of overconfidence, you need a clear understanding of how overconfidence is likely to affect your judgments and decisions (and those of your counterparts) at the bargaining table. Fortunately, new research suggests exactly when to expect overconfidence and offers insight into how you can prevent it from getting you into trouble in your next negotiation.

Here are four pieces of advice that current negotiation research offers to reduce your overconfidence:

1. Collect information.

When the stakes are high, you must overcome the common tendency to spend too much time looking in the mirror, admiring virtues and fretting over flaws. Negotiators get into trouble when they lack information about the other players in the game. For this reason, seek out as much relevant, high-quality information about the other side as you can, and use that information to your advantage.


Discover step-by-step techniques for avoiding common business negotiation pitfalls when you download a copy of the FREE special report, Business Negotiation Strategies: How to Negotiate Better Business Deals, from the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School.


  • Negotiation tip: In the course of talks, listen closely to the other side, and update your beliefs when necessary.

2. Consider the opposite.

One of the best ways to correct the biases in your judgment (such as overconfidence) is to think of reasons why your initial guesses could be wrong. In particular, consider the possibility that the opposite of your assumption is true. Suppose that you are negotiating with a prospective employer and you suspect that the employer is meeting with many other strong job candidates.

  • Negotiation tip: Now consider the opposite: Does any evidence suggest that you are the only qualified candidate being interviewed? If so, what might this mean for your negotiation?

3. Find a devil’s advocate.

Before and during a negotiation, ask others within your organization to question you about your approach and assumptions. If you’re the boss, this technique may be politically awkward; your subordinates won’t want to tell you that you’re wrong. Yet good negotiators base their decisions on high-quality information, not the information that makes them feel good.

  • Negotiation tip: If you want to pick the right negotiation strategy, you will have to persuade the other members of your team to give you critical, thoughtful feedback – not the information they think will make you happy.

4. Don’t be afraid to ask.

Many people find negotiation stressful and avoid it whenever possible. The fear of not knowing what to say may lead you to assume that you won’t get what you want from the process. Note that this prediction rests on the parallel assumption that your negotiating counterpart is an avid, expert bargainer. In fact, it’s just as likely that your counterpart is as nervous as you are. Don’t let negotiation opportunities pass you by.

  • Negotiation tip: Once you’re at the table, remember that it rarely hurts to ask for what you want. You will be amazed by what you can get – including valuable information – simply by asking.

Has overconfidence been a problem for you in negotiation? Leave a comment.


Discover step-by-step techniques for avoiding common business negotiation pitfalls when you download a copy of the FREE special report, Business Negotiation Strategies: How to Negotiate Better Business Deals, from the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School.


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One Response to “Business Negotiation Skills to Curb Your Overconfidence”

  • How does one draw a line between confidence, overconfidence and arrogance – espeically when negotiating an employment offer? One interviewer candidly remarked that I came across as arrogant while I believed it was my confidence [overconfidence?] that was being misinterpretted thus.

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