How to Use MESOs in Business Negotiations

In business negotiations, several offers are usually better than one.

By Katie Shonkon / Business Negotiations

It’s not uncommon in business negotiations to find yourself on the brink of an impasse. You and your counterpart have exchanged a series of offers and counteroffers, and you’ve met somewhere close to the middle—but not close enough. With each side firmly rooted in its position, there may seem to be no way forward. That’s when it helps to know how to use MESOs in negotiations.

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.

A strategy in business negotiation known as MESOs, which stands for multiple equivalent simultaneous offers, may help you break through your deadlock and find common ground, according to professor Victoria Husted Medvec of Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management and Adam D. Galinsky of Columbia Business School. Medvec and Galinsky outlined the MESOs strategy in an article in the Program on Negotiation’s Negotiations Briefings newsletter.

When you present more than one offer at a time, instead of a single offer, you are likely to increase your counterpart’s satisfaction while also boosting your odds of coming to an agreement, according to Medvec and Galinsky. In addition, MESOs allow you to be both respected and liked. The researchers found in their research with Geoffrey Leonardelli of the Unviersity of Toronto that negotiators who use MESOs achieved better outcomes than those who make a single packaged offer, without sacrificing the relationship or losing credibility.

How to identify MESOs

When preparing to deliver MESOs in a contract negotiation, you need to create a scoring system that allows you to compare qualitatively different issues, explain Medvec and Galinsky. For a job candidate preparing to present MESOs to a prospective employer, these might include compensation, location, and vacation days, for example. For more information on the benefits of multiple equivalent simultaneous offers in negotiation, see also MESO Negotiation: The Benefits of Making Multiple Equivalent Simultaneous Offers in Business Negotiations.

You can begin by tracking your priorities on the various issues at stake on a spreadsheet. Decide how important each issue is to you and then assign it a relative weight. For example, for the job candidate, compensation might be worth 50% of the pie, location 30%, and vacation days 20%.

Next, assess the options available to you within each issue. Your possible compensation might range from $180,000 to $200,000, for example. Your choice of job locations might include London, New York, and Chicago. Finally, your vacation time might range from two to four weeks.

Finally, assign points to each option to reflect your preferences. For instance, if London is a much more appealing city to you than New York, London would get 100 points while New York would get only 50.

With some simple math, you can figure out the total value to you of any given package, with each package including all three issues. Your scoring system will allow you to generate MESOs, each with different components but all with roughly the same total value to you—thus making them all equally pleasing to you. Consequently, you can present your MESOs and be confident that you will be satisfied if your counterpart chooses any one of them (or chooses a particular package to negotiate further).

MESOs specifics

Why should a business negotiator typically include three offers in their MESOs? Medvec, Galinsky, and Leonardelli find that a package of three equivalent, simultaneous offers helps you acquire valuable information from the other party without overwhelming her with too many options. By presenting the offers together, you’ll highlight your flexibility while letting your opponent note the differences among them.

Notably, your first package of MESOs should be more aggressive than your negotiation objective, or ideal outcome. Although you will value each offer equally, don’t reveal this information to the other side. Rather, explain that there are numerous ways to construct your deal, and ask your counterpart to decide which offer works best for her.

What if she says that none of the offers works for her? Encourage her to indicate which offer most closely meets her priorities or best accounts for her constraints, clarifying that this does not bind her to accept one of the offers as a final agreement.

In this manner, MESOs allow you to secure an understanding of the other side’s interests that you would be unlikely to ascertain through direct questioning. Your counterpart’s reactions to your offers show you his priorities and the magnitude of those priorities. In addition, through MESOs, you can detect whether he might be misrepresenting his perspective or inadvertently overstating his position.

In their research, Medvec and Galinsky have found that the MESOs approach succeeds because it takes both parties’ interests into account and, in the process, improves negotiators’ outcomes and satisfaction.

3 caveats about MESOs

Medvec and Galinsky offer three notes of caution concerning MESOs. First, because MESOs contain ample information about your interests, you should counterbalance such disclosures by anchoring your offers to your advantage. Make sure that all your offers exceed your negotiation objective or ideal outcome to allow some wiggle room for further negotiation.

Second, a savvy counterpart may try to cherry-pick the best elements of each proposal to create a new deal that works against you. Respond to such attempts by using your scoring system to come up with three new offers that respond to your counterpart’s priorities without sacrificing your own goals.

Third, because the abundant choices offered by MESOs could be overwhelming, avoid presenting more than three offers at a time.

Have you used MESOs in negotiations? Share your experience with us in the comments.

Related Article: Negotiation Strategies and Negotiation Techniques – MESO Negotiation

For more information on win-win negotiation strategies using multiple equivalent simultaneous offers, also read: MESO: Make Multiple Equivalent Simultaneous Offers to Create Value in Dealmaking Table & How to Expand the Pie in Negotiations Using Integrative Bargaining Strategies

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.