How To Use Framing In Your Next Negotiation

Framing is a powerful tool if you know how to use it
Framing is a powerful tool if you know how to use it Image Credit: Maayan Windmuller

As negotiators, I think that we all understand that our goal in our next negotiation is to find a way to present what we want the other side to do in a way that they will accept it. Although this can be easy to say, it can be hard to do. We understand that how our idea is presented, how it is “framed”, can play a big role in determining if the other side accepts or rejects our offer. What is the right way to frame our proposals when talking with the other side?

What Is Framing?

In your next negotiation, you may find yourself in a situation where you’ve offered what you think is a great deal, but the other side doesn’t seem to agree. What’s the problem here? The offer that you made may be excellent – the problem is with how you’ve approached framing in the negotiation that’s holding you back. The idea of framing in negotiation describes the fact that the way we describe our offers strongly affects how others view them. Research has found that people tend to resist compromises – and to declare an impasse – that are framed as losses rather than gains. As an example, suppose that your company offers a recruit a $20,000 increase over their current salary of $100,000. This offer of $120,000 is more likely to appeal to then than an offer framed as a $30,000 decrease from their request of a $150,000 salary. Negotiators need to understand that stressing what the other party would gain rather than lose is an important form of framing in negotiation. What we need as negotiators are strategies that can help improve our business negotiation skills.

Always Offer Manageable Choices

Studies that have been done of consumer behavior suggest that people actually welcome fewer rather than more choices. This is a finding with consequences for framing in negotiation. In a study, researchers set up a tasting booth of chocolates in a gourmet food store. On one weekend, shoppers were able to taste six different chocolates. On another weekend, shoppers were offered 24 chocolates to taste. All the chocolates were available for purchase on both weekends. The larger selection of chocolates attracted more people to the tasting table, though the number of chocolates people tasted was about the same both weekends. Here’s the surprising result: 30% of shoppers exposed to six types of chocolates bought some chocolates, but only 3% of those exposed to 24 types did so. Negotiators can become so overwhelmed by available options that deciding not to make any decision at all can be a relief. When framing in negotiation, keep in mind that the other side may say they want as many choices as possible but may feel overwhelmed by 10 or 20 choices.

Always Make Several Offers

To make framing work for you in a negotiation, what’s the right number of options to present? It turns out that Issuing three equivalent offers simultaneously can be a good strategy. When you present multiple equivalent simultaneous offers, also known as MESOs, you show the other side the issues you value most. In turn, their reactions to your offers will tell you about their priorities. Together, this allows you to craft an agreement that accounts for everyone’s most important interests. What’s more, MESOs can give negotiators the choice that they desire without risk of decision paralysis.

Always Be Willing To Be Rejected

In a negotiation you need to 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. Real-estate agents sometimes use this technique to play on this tendency by taking buyers to see overpriced, run-down homes before showing them ordinary homes that appear stunning by comparison. What this means is that you need to 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 of offers that, thanks to the contrast effect, are much more likely to hit the mark.

What All Of This Means For You

In negotiations, it turns out that it’s not just what you offer to the other side that matters, but also how you go about offering it. We want the other side to accept our offer, but there will be times that they don’t. In cases like this, we need to understand that we may have presented our offer incorrectly. This means that we need to learn how to best make offers that will be accepted.

Framing has to do with how we go about describing our offer to the other side. We need to communicate what the other side will gain from our offer, not what they will lose. When framing an offer, we have to always offer manageable choices. If we don’t, then we run the risk of overwhelming the other side. Every time that we make an offer, we should make several offers. Being rejected is part of the framing process – it can show us what is important to the other side.

In every negotiation, our goal is to have our offer accepted by the other side. We are always looking for ways to make our offer appear to be more attractive to the other side. If we learn how to properly frame the offers that we make, we can cause the other side to view our offer in a way that is positive. Doing this correctly can boost our chances of getting the other side to accept our offer.

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

Question For You: How many choices do you think that we should present the other side with?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

Hopefully by now we all know what win-win negotiating is all about. When we enter into a negotiation hoping to achieve a win-win outcome, we want to get the best deal possible for ourselves while at the same time leaving the other side feeling that the negotiation went well for them also. Although this may be a good goal to have, it can often turn out to be difficult to do because of the competitive nature of most negotiations. If win-win is something that we really want, just exactly what do we need to do during a negotiation in order to achieve it?