Are You Avoiding a Key Negotiation?

By — on / Negotiation Skills

Imagine that it’s time to shop for a new car. A friend has told you that she solicited bids from dealers on a no-haggle website and was offered a good, nonnegotiable price. You consider going this route but wonder if you could get an even better deal by negotiating at the dealership. Would you choose negotiation or the no-haggle option?
Now imagine that you are interested in hiring a new employee who has expressed the desire to negotiate his starting salary. You have led the negotiations thus far, but you have the option of passing off the salary negotiation to the HR manager. Will you take on this negotiation, or will you pass the buck?
When we think about our experiences as negotiators, we tend to overlook the times we have avoided negotiation altogether. Yet most of us can think of negotiations we have avoided because of anxiety about our abilities, lack of time, or some other concern.
Many factors affect when we decide to avoid an opportunity to negotiate, but anxiety about one’s negotiating ability is likely to be one overriding factor. In a study by Alison Wood Brooks and Maurice Schweitzer of the University of Pennsylvania, negotiators who were primed to feel anxious were more likely to drop out of a negotiation than were those primed to be in a neutral state. Though this study didn’t look at the decision to negotiate, it seems quite possible that anxiety could also create strong ambivalence about entering a negotiation in the first place.
Sometimes the decision to avoid negotiation may be less emotional and more reasoned. For example, a cost-benefit analysis might lead you to believe you’d get more bang for your buck by soliciting no-haggle prices for a new car than by negotiating at the dealership.
If you are approached to negotiate that you want to avoid, pause and examine whether you’re being swayed by reason or emotion. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What are the potential costs and benefits of participating in this negotiation?
  • Do I tend to avoid negotiation in general, or is this a special case?
  • What are my alternatives, and are they better or worse than my current negotiation?
  • Am I afraid of failing? If so, what is the worst that could happen?
  • Could my reputation suffer if I turn down this opportunity or hand it off to someone else?
  • If there is much to be gained, can I overcome my aversion by preparing thoroughly or otherwise boosting my confidence?

There are perfectly legitimate reasons to avoid negotiation opportunities. By taking time to study your motives and alternatives, you will feel more secure about whichever path you choose.


Adapted from “What Negotiations Are You Avoiding?” First published in the Negotiation newsletter, June 2011.

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