Negotiation Techniques and Tactics: Power Plays

Negotiation techniques and tactics suggested by new research will help you enhance your sense of power—and reach better outcomes—even when your bargaining position is weak.

By on / Negotiation Skills

negotiation techniques and tactics

Imagine you’re a chef who is having trouble finding cooks in an oversaturated restaurant market. You’re so desperate to get fully staffed that you find yourself making significant concessions on salary, scheduling, and other issues during interviews with potential hires.

When considering negotiation techniques and tactics, we’re often advised that our most important source of power is our best alternative to a negotiated agreement, or BATNA. When we feel powerless, it’s often because we don’t have a strong alternative if the current deal falls apart or fails to meet our needs. The key to enhancing the effects of power in negotiation, therefore, is to do whatever we can to improve our walk-away alternatives.

But what if you’ve done everything you can to bolster your BATNA and it’s still falling short? In cases such as these, other, more subjective negotiation techniques and tactics may help you meet your goals and enhance the benefits of negotiation in business, the results of two new studies show.


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Acting the Part

In a 2018 study published the journal Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, University of Southern California professor Scott S. Wiltermuth and his colleagues examined whether the amount of objective power a negotiator has affects how useful his or her displays of dominance will be. In one of the experiments, pairs of undergraduates played the role of two coworkers, a senior vice president and a junior analyst, hammering out the details of a new virtual-reality project.

Some of those playing the senior vice president were told that they were in a much stronger negotiating position and had much more power in the organization than those playing the junior analyst, who were told that they were in a much weaker bargaining position and had much less power. In addition, some of the negotiators were encouraged to engage in dominance behaviors (such as speaking loudly, interrupting, and taking up a lot of space) during the negotiation, which they were told might help improve their outcomes.

The results showed that when low-power negotiators engaged in dominance behaviors, they felt more powerful and claimed more value as a result. Thus, when you lack power, behaving in a dominant manner may help you feel more powerful and perhaps negotiate more assertively.

The high-power negotiators in the experiment didn’t feel more powerful or claim more value by engaging in dominance behaviors, but those behaviors served as win-win negotiation skills: pairs were more successful at creating value when the person with more power appeared dominant. “High-power negotiators’ expressions of dominance may motivate low-power counterparts to invest the cognitive effort necessary to find an integrative solution,” Wiltermuth and his colleagues conclude.

Imagine Your Way to Power

Simply imagining that you have more power than you actually do is another tool to add to your repertoire of negotiation techniques and tactics, INSEAD researcher Michael Schaerer and his colleagues found in a 2018 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology that included seven experiments conducted on more than 2,500 people.

In one experiment, participants were instructed to make the first offer in a negotiation over a used CD with an online buyer (who was fictitious). Some sellers were told that a different buyer had offered them $8 for the CD—a strong BATNA. Others were told they had no other offer—a weak BATNA. Those in a third group also were told they had no other offer (a weak BATNA) and then were asked to imagine having a strong alternative offer. The sellers were instructed to imagine what this strong alternative offer would look and feel like, and how it would affect the upcoming negotiation.

Those who imagined having a strong BATNA made significantly more ambitious first offers than those who were simply told they had no alternative—$11.20 as compared to $8.65. In fact, those whose strong BATNAs were imaginary asked for about as much as those who actually had a strong BATNA. The results of Schaerer and his team’s experiments imply that thinking about the BATNA we’d like to have may inspire us to ask for more and get better results.

Together, the results of these two studies suggest that positive beliefs and dominant behaviors are types of negotiation skills we can employ to not only feel successful, but to actually meet our goals.

What other negotiation techniques and tactics have you used to enhance your power or sense of power at the bargaining table?

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