The Power Of First Impressions When You Are Negotiating

How a negotiation turns out may be based on first impressions
How a negotiation turns out may be based on first impressions
Image Credit: Lennart TakanenFollow

When you use your negotiation styles and negotiating techniques to enter into a negotiation, just exactly how much do you know about the other side? What you probably have are a number of assumptions that are going to be boosted by the first impressions that the other side makes when you meet them. A question that we should all be asking ourselves is if this is really the best way to go about preparing to negotiate? Could we be getting things wrong?

How We Use First Impressions

In a negotiation, even when not based in reality, the expectation that the other side is “tough” or “cooperative” can become a self-fulfilling prophecy at the bargaining table. When you approach an allegedly tough competitor with both suspicion and guardedness, they are likely to absorb these expectations and become more a more competitive negotiator.

Research has shown that negotiators who were believed to be competitive were treated by their counterparts with suspicion. Alternatively, negotiators who were believed to be tough responded by acting tough; they failed to share information or to persuade the other party to make concessions. What were the results of these first impressions? Subpar bargaining outcomes for both sides.

As negotiators, we need to understand that people’s reputations can be “sticky.” Once they are formed, a reputation become fixed in people’s minds. When we get new information about the other side, we tend to dismiss it and instead remain focused on our initial views and impressions. Research suggests that it’s easier to for someone to tarnish a good reputation (e.g. for cooperativeness) than it is to reform a bad reputation (e.g. for toughness). What this means for negotiators is that we have all the more reason to cultivate a cooperative reputation from the start and strive to maintain it at all costs.

We Need To Be Able To Discern Friends from Foes in Negotiation

So how can we go about judging the other side? It is often surprising to learn that warmth and competence make up a full 80% of our judgments of others. In both our personal conversations and our negotiation conversations, we perceive warmth before competence and usually weigh warmth more heavily. In certain conditions, such as hiring and promotions, however, we care more about competence than warmth.

If you think about it, these facts make sense when viewed in light of human evolution. Like our earliest ancestors did, when encountering a stranger, we try to quickly size up whether the person is a friend or foe. That is, we ask ourselves, What are their intentions toward me? Intentions can be judged on a continuum ranging anywhere from warm to cold. Warmth encompasses traits such as trustworthiness, sincerity, friendliness, and kindness; coldness encompasses opposite traits, from deception to cruelty.

After determining someone’s intentions toward us, we next assess their ability to carry them out. That’s where competence comes in. We ask ourselves is this person capable of harming me (or, alternatively, helping me)? We also try to find out how skillful, creative, smart, and confident are they? In negotiation conversations, will the other side react positively to your attempts to create value, or will they try to take advantage of your efforts? If the other side seems to care only about their own outcomes, how capable are they of grabbing the lion’s share for themselves? Without even realizing it, we make such assessments in the earliest moments of a negotiation.

What All Of This Means For You

When we are preparing for a principled negotiation, if we know what we are doing we will do our homework. We’ll study the issues and we’ll study who we’ll be negotiating against. What can come out of all of this preparation is us forming a first impression of the person that we will be negotiating with. First impressions can be powerful things and our impression of the other side may cause them to transform into that person.

When we believe that the person that we will be negotiating with has some articular characteristic (they are tough, they are cooperative) then that person may transform into someone with those characteristics. Reputations can be “sticky” and once we have formed them, we find them hard to shake. It turns out that the warmth that we feel from working with someone can go a long way to shaping how we feel about them. Once we think that we know how someone views us, we next try to determine how we feel they will treat us during the negotiations.

Knowing that first impressions can have such a powerful effect on us is the first step in learning how to deal with them. We need to be able to keep an open mind when we enter into our next negotiation. We have to be willing to allow our impression of the other side to develop as the negotiations progress. Use the negotiation to form your impression of the other side.

– Dr. Jim Anderson Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Negotiating Skills™

Question For You: What should you do if you discover that you have created a first impression of the other side?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

As negotiators we are always on edge when we enter into a negotiation. There are a host of questions that are running through our mind and we are searching for ways to be successful. One of the biggest questions that we deal with has to do with the first offer that is going to be made during the negotiations. Should we use our negotiation styles and negotiating techniques to be the ones who make it or should we sit back and wait for the other side? If we do make an offer, should it be a strong offer or do we risk alienating the other side?