NASA’s Guide To Negotiation Goal Setting: Aim For The Moon!

by drjim on August 15, 2008

Successful negotiating requires you to set high goals that can be achieved

Successful negotiating requires you to set high goals that can be achieved

What does it take to be successful in a negotiation? Long before you start doing any of the standard negotiation preparation tasks, you need to take just a moment and decide where you are aiming to get to. Although it sounds simple, all too often we enter into a negotiation with only a vague understanding of what it’s going to take in order for us to be able to walk away with a feeling of success.

There is a danger to setting an overall goal for the negotiations – how will we feel if we don’t achieve it? Really smart social scientists have been studying things like this for a long time and they’ve learned that setting such a goal will do two things for us: it will form an internal commitment to achieving the goal and it will set us up to feel a sense of ego loss if we end up not achieving it.

Sounds dangerous doesn’t it?

A critical point that you need to realize is that everything that happens at the negotiating table is part of a feedback loop. The feedback that you receive while negotiating will either alter or reinforce your sense of being able to achieve your goal. Those smart scientists have discovered that we respond to the feedback that we’re getting in the following ways:

  • Our expectations of being able to achieve our goal go up after a negotiating success and, of course, they go down after a failure.
  • If we think that we control our own success or failure, then our expectation are even more likely to to go up and down.
  • BIG successes lead to a sense of being able to accomplish our goal; BIG failures leads to a feeling of never being able to accomplish our goal.
  • If your goal is either too easy to get to or too hard to achieve during the negotiations, then you won’t feel much of anything – either success or failure.

If all it took to achieve your overall goal in negotiating was to have a highly placed goal, then we’d all be able to be successful each time we sat down to negotiate. However, life doesn’t work out that way. The reason for this is because of the other side of the table – they are actively working against you!

The other side of the table has a specific set of tactics that they use to bring you down and lower your feeling of being able to accomplish your goal. Their tactics have names such as the Bogey, the Krunch, and the Nibble. If you had no defenses against these tactics, then the other side would win each time. That doesn’t have to be the case and next time we’ll start taking these tactics apart and showing you how you can turn them to your advantage when they are used against you!

Do you always enter a negotiating session with a clear goal in mind? How do you set this goal (or does someone else always set it for you?) Have you ever felt like you were on a rollercoaster during a negotiation: feeling like you were going to achieve your goal one minute and then feeling like it was unreachable the next? Leave a comment and let me know.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Ted Linklater April 22, 2009 at 3:23 pm

Would a frame of reference for success, or not, depend on whether one has a reference point?

A good example, of a reference point, would be the benefits and costs that one’s organization receives from the incumbent or previous supplier.

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Dr. Jim Anderson April 23, 2009 at 8:22 pm

Ted: bingo. I believe that that all fits into part of your pre-sales negotiation preparation activities. As you say, if you don’t know where you are going, then you’ll never know if you’ve gotten there.

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