Negotiation Techniques: How to Predict a Negotiator’s Decisions

You can improve your negotiation skills in many ways, but knowing how you behave as a negotiator will refine your negotiation techniques

By — on / Dealmaking

negotiation techniques

Improving your negotiation techniques can only take you so far – eventually you need to assess your behavior preferences as a negotiator. Being able to predict how you will behave in a given bargaining scenario will help you augment the negotiation training you have received as well as help you achieve better outcomes at the bargaining table and refine your negotiation techniques. Although forecasting errors are extremely common, you can minimize their impact on your negotiations by following these three guidelines.


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1. Consider the Opposite

Most negotiators recognize the value of determining their alternatives, limits, interests, and priorities and those of their opponent ahead of time as part of their negotiation techniques. You would be wise to recognize that your predictions about your own future judgments, feelings, and behaviors are probably wrong.

One effective strategy for debiasing your judgment is to “consider the opposite” of what you think is true, as Charles Lord of Texas Christian University advises. Don’t assume you’ll maintain your poise when a negotiation gets tough.
– Instead, consider your strengths and weaknesses, and create an effective action plan.

Furthermore, think about all the motivations you are likely to experience in the negotiation.

In research conducted with Sillito and Tenbrunsel, self-predictions became more accurate when people were asked to consider key motivations in an upcoming negotiation.

When they thought about how the fear of impasse could affect their behavior, for example, they acknowledged that they might not choose to battle a competitive negotiator. Thinking about motivations helps you better evaluate potential outcomes and identify effective strategies.

Be sure to create contingencies based on your opponent’s potential moves. Peter Gollwitzer of New York University has shown that when people construct strategic intentions – such as, ‘If she refuses to concede on price, I’ll bring up the issue of delivery timing’ – they more effectively and efficiently meet their goals.

2. Remove Your Opponent’s Personality from the Equation

When preparing to negotiate, you might think it’s best to seek out as much information as you can about your counterpart. It’s true that you should consider the other side’s sources of power and walkaway alternatives, but you shouldn’t give much weight to your assessments of his personality or stereotypes.

Why not?

First, Michael Morris of Columbia Business School and his colleagues have shown that one’s best alternative to a negotiated agreement or BATNA is a stronger predictor of behavior than is one’s personality.

Having a strong BATNA leads negotiators to engage in assertive behavior (such as making extreme requests and offering few concessions) and to procure better outcomes; by contrast, personality dimensions such as agreeableness have less impact on bargaining behavior.

Second, our expectations of others are often dead wrong, making negotiation techniques like this invalid.

Laura Kray of the University of California at Berkeley has shown that women are typically just as effective negotiators as men, although people often fall victim to common stereotypes and expect women to be less effective.

To avoid overweighing personality stereotypes, consider the opposite during your negotiation planning.

“How should I behave if he isn’t cooperative?” Your answers could lead you to strategies that will apply to a variety of people and situations, such as identifying ways to discover your opponent’s BATNA. If you ask the right questions, your tactics will be driven by the other side’s actual behavior rather than by your faulty assumptions.

One caveat: If you have reliable information that your opponents uses a specific negotiation tactic, prepare to deal with it – but also consider the possibility that she may do the opposite when negotiating with you!


Claim your FREE copy: Dealmaking

Discover how to boost your power at the bargaining table in this FREE special report, Dealmaking: Secrets of Successful Dealmaking in Business Negotiations, from Harvard Law School.

3. Align Your Behavior with Your Forecasts

In general, our egocentric self-predictions cause us to overestimate our power at the bargaining table.

But research by Gerben van Kleef of the University of Amsterdam suggests that the powerful are more immune to competitive opponents than those who wield less power; the behavior of the powerful tends to resemble their forecasts.

Thus one way to improve your forecasts is to increase your bargaining power.

This could mean generating better walkaway alternatives or highlight your status and expertise during talks.

You might also think about a time when you had power in a negotiation. Our research with Joe Magee of New York University and Deborah Gruenfeld of Stanford University shows that this simple mind exercise can make negotiators behave as if they have power.

On a related note, consider your target price, or ideal outcome. From the distance of time, this isn’t difficult. But when faced with a seemingly tough opponent, negotiators focus too much on (and sometimes inappropriately lower) their reservation price – the specific point at which they’d prefer to walk away rather than reach a deal – and abandon their target price, to their detriment.

In our research, we’ve found that simply reminding negotiators just before talks to begin to focus on their target price helps them generate better outcomes and avoid being unduly influenced by an opponent’s shenanigans.

Do you think these negotiation techniques will help you predict a negotiator’s decisions?


Claim your FREE copy: Dealmaking

Discover how to boost your power at the bargaining table in this FREE special report, Dealmaking: Secrets of Successful Dealmaking in Business Negotiations, from Harvard Law School.

Related Article: How Power Affects Negotiators

Adapted from “Overconfident, Underprepared” by Kristina A. Diekmann and Adam D. Galinsky in the October 2006 issue of the Negotiation newsletter.

Originally posted in 2013.

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2 Responses to “Negotiation Techniques: How to Predict a Negotiator’s Decisions”

  • Tony E.

    I suggest a second caveat under item 2. If you call your counterpart an opponent, your predictions will be influenced by an assumption that negotiation is necessarily adversarial. You may create antagonism that is not there in the first place.


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