Adapted from “Break Through the Tough Talk,” by Kristina A. Diekmann (University of Utah) and Ann E. Tenbrunsel (Notre Dame University), first published in the Negotiation newsletter.
You might think that cultivating a reputation as a tough bargainer might be the best way to cope with a competitive opponent. But this isn’t necessarily the best strategy. When your opponent views you as competitive in a single-issue negotiation, as when price is the only issue on the table, he may lower his expectations and reservation price, allowing you to claim more value. However, overly competitive expectations could cause the other party to avoid negotiating with you in the future and lead others to do the same.
Even more critically, a reputation for competitiveness can affect value creation in more complex, multi-issue negotiations. When your opponent sets a low reservation price and makes concessions too quickly, you may not be able to create or claim greater value. Negotiators may also be less willing to provide information about their true interests when faced with a seemingly competitive opponent, further limiting value-creating tradeoffs. Indeed, Catherine Tinsley of Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business, Kathleen O’Connor of Cornell University’s Johnson Graduate School of Management, and Brandon Sullivan of the University of Minnesota have found that a reputation for being good at claiming value, even if it’s unwarranted, can prevent a negotiator from creating value.
How can you change someone’s erroneous expectations of your competitiveness? Demonstrate your cooperative spirit by focusing on interests, being open, providing information, and working to build trust. And, after a tough negotiation, Richard Larrick of Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, Michael Morris of Columbia Business School, and Steven Su of INSEAD in Fontainebleau, France, advise you to offer your counterpart information about why you were so competitive. When the other party realizes that your competitiveness was fueled by strong alternatives rather than by your personality, you may avoid gaining a reputation as an overly tough opponent.