The prospect of sharing information with a negotiating counterpart can be scary – it can fix your counterpart into a position at the negotiation table you didn’t intend (an example of the anchoring effect). Share too much, and the other side might conclude that you’re desperate to make a deal, any deal. There’s also the risk of giving away privileged information that your counterpart could use against you. A careful analysis of the pros and cons of sharing information in negotiation will help you approach negotiation scenarios with a greater sense of confidence and security.
Information Sharing at the Bargaining Table
Don’t wait for the other side to open up to you first. The advantages of sharing information during negotiation have been well documented. Thanks to the power of reciprocity, your counterpart is likely to match any information you share with valuable information of his own.
In general, you should feel comfortable revealing information about your interests in the negotiation, as well as your priorities across different issues. That doesn’t mean that if there are five issues on the table, you should reveal that you care about only two of them. Rather, stress that all the issues are important to you, but you’d have a hard time budging on two of them.
Here are some other types of information you generally should feel comfortable sharing, according to Georgetown University Law Center professor Carrie Menkel-Meadow:
Information required by law.
Don’t risk serious anchoring effect issues such as getting into hot water by concealing information you’re legally or ethically required to disclose. Home sellers, for instance, may need to reveal known property defects to potential buyers. Research relevant laws and professional standards before you negotiate.
Information that requires “damage control.”
Just as a defense attorney questions his client in court about incriminating information before the prosecution can raise the issue, the best way to handle troubling facts may be to come clean to your counterpart. For both ethical and strategic reasons, for example, a job applicant who was fired from her previous position would be wise to explain what happened to an interviewer rather than waiting for him to discover it during a reference check.
Readily available information.
These days, information that was once difficult to track down—including financial and disclosure statements, legal documents, and news reports—may be just a Google search away. When deciding whether to share sensitive information that’s widely available, assess what would happen if your counterpart discovered such information on his own.
Has the anchoring effect had any impact on your negotiations? Share your story with us.
Related Negotiation Skills Articles: Win-Win Negotiations – Trapped in a Competitive Cycle? Learn from Congress’s Mistakes: The U.S. Senate’s fight to pass bipartisan financial reform and how negotiators can enhance cooperation with their counterparts.
Negotiation Skills – Are You Ready to Negotiate?: Preparing for a negotiation beforehand can have remarkable results for your bargaining outcomes. Read these negotiation tips to find out how you can prepare for your next session at the bargaining table.
How to Negotiate When You’re Literally Far Apart: It is a problem that negotiators are facing increasing economic globalization. While globalization creates many new business opportunities it also requires negotiating methods aside from traditional, face-to-face meetings.
Adapted from “How Much Should You Share?” first published in the Negotiation newsletter, April 2010.