How To Use Framing In Your Next Negotiation

Framing means offering manageable options and using the contrast effect
Framing means offering manageable options and using the contrast effect
Image Credit: Jonathan Khoo

As negotiators, our job during a negotiation is to understand what the other side is looking for and then make them an offer. The offer that we present to them will hopefully be what we consider to be a great deal for them. However, sometimes after we’ve made the offer, we’ll get the impression that the other side does not agree that the offer is all that good. Why do we have a problem here? It turns out that your offer may be excellent; however, it’s how you’ve approached framing in the negotiation that’s holding you back.

What Is Framing?

During a negotiation the concept of framing describes the fact that the way we describe our offers strongly affects how the other side will view them. A good example of this is that people tend to resist compromises that are framed as losses rather than a gain. If a company was trying to hire someone they might offer them a $20,000 increase over their current salary of $100,000. However, let’s say that the candidate had requested a salary of $150,000. This offer of $120,000 which can be framed as $20,000 more than they are currently making is more likely to appeal to the candidate than an offer framed as a $30,000 decrease from their request of a $150,000 salary. If we can stress what the other side would gain rather than lose is an important form of framing in negotiation. In negotiations when it comes to framing, there are three other strategies can also help improve your business negotiation skills.

Make The Choices That You Offer Manageable

As negotiators we might think that the more options that we offer to the other side the happier they would be. However, that is not the case. Studies of consumer behavior suggest that people actually want fewer rather than more choices. This finding can have an impact on the consequences for framing in negotiation. In a study, a tasting booth of jams was set up in a gourmet food store. One weekend, shoppers were able to taste six different jams. Another weekend, shoppers were offered 24 jams to taste. Each of the jams was available for purchase on both weekends.

What the researchers found was that the larger selection of jams attracted more people to the tasting table, though the number of jams people tasted was about the same both weekends. There was a surprising result: 30% of shoppers exposed to six types of jam bought a jar, but only 3% of those exposed to 24 types did so.

What the researchers found was that consumers can become so overwhelmed by available options that deciding not to make any decision at all can be a relief. Likewise, when framing in negotiation, you need to keep in mind that the other side may say they want as many choices as possible but may feel overwhelmed by 10 or 20.

Always Make Several Offers

You have probably heard before that it’s always a good idea to present the other side with multiple offers. However, this brings up a critical question. If you want to use framing correctly, just exactly how many offers should you present the other side with at one time? Issuing three equivalent offers simultaneously can be a good strategy according to people who study such things.

A negotiator who presents multiple equivalent simultaneous offers, or MESOs, shows the other side the issues that you value most. In turn, their reactions will tell you about their priorities. Taken together, you can craft an agreement that accounts for everyone’s most important interests. The best part is that MESOs give negotiators the choice they desire without risk of decision paralysis.

You Must Be Willing to Be Rejected

All of us like to use our negotiation styles and negotiating techniques to make offers and then have those offers accepted. However, when we are using framing during a negotiation, we need to be willing to be rejected. A good example of this comes from the world of bread-making machines. Upscale retailer Williams-Sonoma had been selling a bread-making machine priced at $275. Over time the company also began selling a similar but larger bread-making machine, this one priced at $429. What happened was that Williams-Sonoma sold a few units of the more expensive machine, but after it was on the market, sales of the less-expensive machine almost doubled. It turns out that apparently, the $275 model didn’t seem like a bargain until it was sitting next to the $429 model.

If we take this example as a lesson for us and we translate it into the context of framing in negotiation, the contrast effect suggests a strategic move: ask for more than you realistically expect, accept rejection, and then shade your offer downward. The other side is likely to find a reasonable offer even more appealing after rejecting an offer that’s out of the question. We often see this in play when real-estate agents play on this tendency by taking buyers to see overpriced, run-down homes before showing them ordinary homes that appear stunning by comparison. So, try putting forth MESOs that aim higher than the other side is likely to accept. Their reaction to the offers will help you frame a subsequent set that, thanks to the contrast effect, are more likely to hit the mark.

What All Of This Means For You

In every principled negotiation that we participate in, our goal is to be able to reach a deal with the other side that they will agree to. There will be times that we make an offer to the other side that does not appear to appeal to them. What we need to do is to take the time to make sure that we understand what it will take to craft offers that will provide the other side with what they are really looking for.

Although the idea of offering multiple choices to the other side is a good idea, we have to be careful to not overdo it. Too many choices can cause the other side to decide to not make a decision. When we make offers, we should always make multiple simultaneous offers. The other side’s feedback on these offers will provide us with more information about what they are really looking for. We need to understand that we run the risk of having our offers rejected by the other side. However, we can craft offers that get rejected in order to steer the other side towards an offer that we want them to accept.

As negotiators we need to understand that getting the other side to accept an offer that we have made to them can be a real challenge. We need to present the other side with compelling arguments to get them to be interested in what we will be offering them. It turns out that our offers, how many we make and how we structure them, can be the key to getting the other side to accept an offer from us. Use framing in your next negotiation to get the other side to want what you are offering them and to accept it.

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

Question For You: If the other side rejects all three offers that you have made to them, what should you do next?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

As good as our negotiation styles and negotiating techniques may be, it turns out that we may be missing one of the most important skills that a negotiator must have: the ability to listen well. During a negotiation, it can be very difficult to listen well to the other side when they are disagreeing with you. It can take both time and practice for us to become better listeners. One of our biggest problems with becoming better listeners is that we have a real temptation to talk instead of listen. This fault seems to increase the more educated a negotiator is and the more they know about the topic at hand. I’ve got some bad news for you: smart people are most prone to making the mistake of not listening. How can we go about becoming better listeners?