Negotiation Blog

Why don’t we start high enough in negotiations with our opening offers?

By Thomas Wood

All good negotiators know that their opening offer should be

  • Assertive (but not so aggressive as to be thought ridiculous)
  • Achievable (even if rarely achieved)
  • Reflective of your ideal outcome

Yet, more often than not, we don’t open high enough (or low enough depending on your perspective). Knowing why this happens helps us avoid making this mistake.

A group we worked with recently identified five factors at play:

  1. No patience: Several team members felt the result of the negotiation was inevitable, and didn’t want to waste time starting high only to arrive at some expected middle ground. But those in the group who started at the middle ground ended up at their walk-away position.
  2. Untested Assumptions: Some folks started as high as was reasonable under assumed circumstances, only to realize later that if they had discovered some interesting facts earlier, they would have felt comfortable asking for more from the start.
  3. Anchoring: Others reacted to their counterpart’s opening offer. They adjusted their own first offer based on their counterpart, rather than based on the facts and circumstances known to them. This is what we call being “anchored down” by the other side.
  4. Competing needs: Some in the group struggled with competing interests: They didn’t want to risk harming an otherwise good relationship by an assertive offer when in truth they would be satisfied with less. This need to be liked, or be seen as cooperative, competed with the best practice of opening at a more desirable outcome.
  5. Negotiating with yourself: Two people planned to open with better but still reasonable terms, but at the last second they predicted the other side’s reaction and lowered their offer. They literally negotiated against themselves.

All of these factors are common mistakes. Remembering that a negotiation is a dialogue with an outcome in mind is the first step. Racing to the end eliminates the potential for either side to develop mutually beneficial solutions. Test assumptions with your counterpart, and not in your own head. And stick to your plan until you learn information that justifies a new strategy.

Negotiating Tip

Listen! It's the easiest and most valuable concession you can offer in any negotiation. You always get goodwill and information in exchange.


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