Why Dominating a Negotiation Doesn’t Always Work

“Should you act dominantly or deferentially when you negotiate? Negotiators generally believe that dominance will give them an edge—and for good reason. Some past studies have shown that when negotiators act dominantly by raising their voices, expanding their body postures to appear larger, and moving themselves to physical positions associated with power they can often claim more of the value available in a negotiation,” writes Scott Wiltermuth in the Harvard Business Review.

“But not always. Colleagues and I have discovered that there are instances when negotiators should act deferentially—they should maintain a constrictive body posture, adopt a softer tone of voice, and take other steps to ensure their negotiation partner feels respected, competent and unthreatened. It all comes down to the complexity of the deal and how the person across the table is behaving.”

“Across our studies, we found that pairs consisting of one negotiator behaving dominantly and the other negotiator behaving deferentially reached better deals than did pairs consisting of two dominant negotiators, pairs consisting of two deferential negotiators, or pairs in which neither negotiator received behavioral instructions.  We judged the success of the deal by calculating the number of points negotiators accumulated from the payoff grid. They reached these superior deals because they more successfully exchanged information about their preferences and the priorities they placed on different issues.  In short, they communicated more effectively – with the dominant negotiators stating preferences and the deferential negotiator asking questions.”

The key takeaway: “Next time you are negotiating, ask yourself if improving the amount and quality of information exchanged between you and your negotiation partner could improve the quality of the agreement you reach.  If so, resist the urge to decide your interaction style before meeting your negotiation partner.”

Stanford Business School Insights highlights seven common pitfalls to avoid during your next negotiation.

1. Poor Planning: “Successful negotiators make detailed plans. They know their priorities — and alternatives — should they fail to reach an agreement. You must know your bottom line, your walkaway point.”

2. Thinking the Pie is Fixed: “Usually it’s not. You may make this common mistake when there is a “congruent issue,” when both parties want the same thing.”

3. Failing to Pay Attention to Your Opponent: “Negotiators need to analyze the biases their opponents bring to the table. How will they evaluate your offers?”

4. Assuming That Cross-Cultural Negotiations are Just Like “Local” Negotiations: “You need to remember that differences do exist, that they are not necessarily negative, and that these differences can create huge potential benefits — as well as big problems if ignored. Services and negotiations need to be tailored to enhance your position with the other side.”

5. Paying Too Much Attention to Anchors: “Anchors are part of a bargaining dynamic known as ‘anchoring and adjustment.’ This involves clearly setting the parameters for negotiation.”

6. Caving in Too Quickly: “No matter what the price, even if it’s fair, always offer less — if only to make your opponent feel good about the deal. You may come up to full price in the end, but at least your opponent will feel as if he made you work for it.”

7. Don’t Gloat: “Finally, when you’ve cut a sweet deal, never do the dance of joy in public by turning to your opponents and telling them you would have done it for less. Gloating will only drive your opponent to extract the difference from you sometime in the future.”