How To Manage Expectations When You Are Negotiating

A negotiator always has to manage the other side's expectations
A negotiator always has to manage the other side’s expectations
Image Credit: Photo by Elena Koycheva on Unsplash

When you jump into a negotiation, do you know what you want to get out of the negotiation? Perhaps a much more important question is does the other side have a set of expectations regarding what they want to get out of the negotiations no matter what negotiation styles or negotiating techniques are used? It turns out that as a negotiator, one of your responsibilities is to make sure that during the negotiations you take the time to carefully manage the other side’s expectations. You need to make sure that when the negotiation is over, their expectations have been met. Now comes the big question – do you know how to go about doing this?

How To Develop Expectations During A Negotiation

So why should we take the time to worry about what expectations the other side has? The reason is because satisfied negotiators are more likely to uphold their side of a deal. A lengthy contract cannot possibly cover every possible contingency, and the costs of enforcement can be high. Secondly, if the other side is satisfied with the deal, they are likely to seek you out again and recommend you for future business. The more satisfied they are, the more cooperatively they will approach future negotiations. On the other hand, a dissatisfied counterpart is likely to try to “get back at you” during the next round of talks.

What we need to realize is that prior to and even during negotiations, people develop expectations about the type of deal they will receive. Researchers have found that negotiators automatically compare their actual outcome of a negotiation with the outcome they expected prior to starting negotiating. As a result of this process, it is possible that two negotiators with the exact same outcome can feel very differently about their deal.

Skilled negotiators manage expectations prior to and during negotiations. Some negotiators do this instinctively. Your reaction to an opening offer can also influence the other side’s expectations. If during a negotiation you react with a laugh, a surprised look, or a flinch, you can lower the other side’s expectations about the feasible bargaining zone, or zone of possible agreement (ZOPA). Conversely, by appearing very cooperative or eager for an agreement, you may raise their expectations.

Mistakes That Can Be Made Regarding Expectations

All of this expectation management can easily lead to a negotiator making mistakes. One common negotiation mistake is to boost expectations by making a steep concession that could lead the other side to expect another. A related mistake is to agree to the other side’s demands too quickly.

Researchers studied reactions to first offers in a negotiation. They found that negotiators whose initial offers were immediately accepted were less satisfied with their negotiated agreement than were negotiators whose offers were accepted after a delay—even if the former group reached better final outcomes than the latter group. Those whose initial offers were immediately accepted were more likely to think about how they could have attained a better outcome than were negotiators whose offers were accepted after a delay.

As these results suggest, you can actually make the other side less satisfied by agreeing too quickly. In fact, by delaying agreement and even asking for additional concessions, you may be able to make your counterpart more satisfied with a deal. As a negotiator your goal has to be to find ways to ensure that when the negotiation is over and done with, the expectations of the other side have been met.

What All Of This Means For You

In addition to attempting to get the best deal possible, it turns out that negotiators have something else that they need to accomplish during their next principled negotiation. The other side will be showing up for the negotiation with a set of expectations regarding what they can hope to get out of the negotiations. It is your job as a negotiator to make sure that the other side’s expectations are managed during the negotiating process.

Worrying about managing the other side’s expectations turns out to be a good idea. If their expectations are met, then you’ll have a better chance that they’ll be willing to follow through with their part of the deal. Additionally, they’ll be willing to negotiate with you again in the future. When a negotiation is over, the other side will compare their results to what they were expecting to get. Your reaction to proposals made by the other side can play a role in managing their expectations. If we give into the other side’s demands too quickly, this can result in them being less satisfied with the results of the negotiation. Delay accepting their proposal and they’ll walk away with their expectations being better met.

Expectations play a big role in how we feel about the results of a negotiation. The other side will show up with a set of expectations that you are going to have to make sure that you are able to meet. Being aware that they have expectations and making sure that you take steps to manage them can be the key to having a successful negotiation outcome.

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

Question For You: If the other side shows up to a negotiation with unrealistic expectations, what should you do?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

During a negotiation, sometimes something amazing happens. When one side presents a number to the other side, that side can all of suddenly end up irrationally fixating on that first number that was put forth at the bargaining table. This number is called “the anchor”. The other side (or us) can become fixated with it no matter how outlandish it may be. Even when we know the anchor has limited relevance, we can sometimes fail to sufficiently adjust our judgments away from it. This is an example of the anchoring effect in negotiations. Negotiators can use anchoring to reduce risk in a negotiation.