Negotiation Blog

Will I insult people if I start high (or start low) in negotiations?

By Thomas Wood

This is one of the most commonly asked questions I get when I teach people in Watershed workshops that they need to open the negotiation by asking for their MDO (most desirable outcome). At Watershed, we refer to the MDO as the highest position within the realm of reasonability. Sure, it is not likely you will get your MDO, but it is defensible, and under the right circumstances you would get your MDO, and that is why it is not objectively insulting.

Take a simple example: You ask for bids from 3 graphics art firms for a project. The firm you would like to use is top notch and by far the best of the three, and its bid reflects this at 22% higher than the next highest bid.  Are you insulted because the graphics art firm started at its MDO? You’re not insulted because you could conceive of paying for this high quality, even though you want a cheaper price.

Insults go both ways of course. Some people might be afraid to negotiate with the high-bid firm out of fear of insulting the bidder.  But there are so many moving parts to the agreement -- deadline, payment terms, scope of work, follow-up support, approval process, etc. -- that you can easily negotiate without being insulting. It is completely legitimate to say,

“I really like your work and would like to use you, but your prices are much higher than the other bids we received. Would you be able to move on your price by 20% if we had someone from our team do some of the grunt work and we pay you 50% up front?” 

You started “high” (low in this case) at your MDO. There is nothing insulting about your counter-offer.

On rare occasion your MDO will insult people. Let’s face it; people become insulted even though what we did is not objectively insulting. Last week I saw relatives become insulted by where they were seated at a celebration, even though their seating was given much consideration. It is just how they choose to see the situation. 

If someone tells me they are insulted by my offer, I simply apologize, tell them that it was not my intention to insult them, that I want to do business with them in part because I respect them, and then I explain why I think my offer is legitimate.  Insulted people typically calm down when given attention and information, and we are able to come to a mutually satisfying agreement.

Don’t let the fear of insulting someone keep you from asking for your MDO. Because it can get in the way of getting what belongs to you.  

Negotiating Tip

 “Champions aren’t made in gyms. Champions are made from something they have deep inside them: a desire, a dream, a vision.”  Muhammad Ali


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