How Much Should You Share at the Negotiation Table?

It's important to be cautious with the information you share at the negotiation table.

By on / Business Negotiations

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Suppose that two entrepreneurs, a marketing expert and an IT specialist, are thinking about merging their consulting firms to create a greater synergy of services. As their talks unfold, each wonders how much information to disclose. Should they bring up discussions with other potential partners? When should they share proprietary business data? What if one is planning to retire in two years, and the other is starting a family—should they share this personal information? Fearful of being hurt by revealing too much information, most negotiators play their facts and preferences close to the vest. At the other end of the spectrum, the current negotiation theory advises us to cooperate whenever possible, revealing information to create maximum value.


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.


Yet the question of when to reveal information in negotiation is seldom clear-cut. Whether relying on traditional assumptions about competing for scarce resources or on newer ideas about realizing a joint gain, wise negotiators pause to consider the possible benefits and costs of revealing or concealing information. They also recognize that different types of information—ranging from facts to opinions to preferences—exist in any negotiation and that the importance of this data may fluctuate as the process unfolds.

Before talks begin—and, if possible, even before your initial contact with your counterpart—list the information you need to resolve your dispute or to build a strong deal. Also, anticipate the information the other side will want from you, and consider how you’ll respond to these queries. Information typically falls into these categories:

• Facts: Information about relevant past events, goods, and services; ongoing obligations and liabilities; parties needed to conclude talks; and so forth.
• Opinions, values, and predictions: Information subject to different interpretations, such as a company’s value, the likely income from a new product, the outcome of a future court decision, or whether the dollar will rise or fall.
• Preferences: Information that negotiators express as their needs, interests, goals, objectives, desires, bottom lines, and reservation prices.

Once you have identified the information you need and may be asked to reveal, you’re ready to consider the reasons you and your counterpart might choose to disclose or to conceal it—topics we will cover in future editions of the “Negotiation Insider.”

Have you ever revealed too much at the negotiation table? How did it impact your outcome? Leave us 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.


Adapted from “Know When to Show Your Hand,” by Carrie Menkel-Meadow (professor, Georgetown University Law Center), first published in the Negotiation newsletter.

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