In A Negotiation, How You Frame Things Is Important

Framing your proposal can determine if the other side accepts it
Framing your proposal can determine if the other side accepts it
Image Credit: John Piercy

The goal of any negotiation that we participate in is to use our negotiation styles and negotiating techniques tofind a way to get the other side to agree to our proposal. There are a lot of different ways that we can go about trying to make this happen. We can beg, we can threaten, we can bribe, we can entice. However, it turns out that one of the most important things that we can do is to present our proposal in a way that will make the other side want to go along with it. This is called framing and it’s a critical part of any negotiation.

What Is Framing?

So just exactly what is this negotiating tactic that we call framing? As a negotiator, what you need to realize is that you may have just placed the best offer in the world on the table in front of the other side of the table. However, they may not be able to see it for how great it is. The reason for this is because it matters how you go about framing your offer when you present it. How you frame your offer will affect how the other side views it.

As an example of this, in a negotiation people generally attempt to resist a compromise when they are framed as a loss instead of a gain. Offering a job candidate an increase over what they were expecting is always better than offering them a decrease from what they were expecting. Taking the time to stress what the other party would gain rather than lose is an important form of framing in a negotiation.

You Must Offer Manageable Choices

Just exactly how many choices for a solution does the other side want you to present them with? As a negotiator, all too often we believe that it is our responsibility to provide the other side with a wide range of options so that they can select the one that best matches what they are trying to accomplish. It turns out that we are probably wrong.

A number of different studies have been done and they have all shown the same thing. In a negotiation, people actually welcome fewer rather than more choices. What this means for us is that the other side can become so overwhelmed by available options that deciding not to make any decision at all can be a relief to them. This means that when you are framing how you want to present your proposal, you need to keep in mind that the other side may say they want as many choices as possible, but may feel overwhelmed if you present them with too many.

It’s Important To Make Multiple Offers

If we can agree that presenting the other side with too many options may cause them to freeze up, what then is the correct number of options to present? Once again, studies have shown that the correct number of options to present is three. People that you are negotiating with will respond well to this number of options.

During a negotiation, when you present multiple equivalent simultaneous offers, also known as “MESOs”, you are showing other parties the issues that are the most important to you. Their reactions to your proposals will tell you about their priorities. Working together, you can craft an agreement that accounts for everyone’s most important interests. The use of MESOs give negotiators the choice they desire without the risk of decision paralysis.

Rejection Is Part Of The Game

How do you feel about having your offer rejected during a negotiation? Perhaps you need to get over that! In negotiating, there is a concept called the “contrast effect”. What this means is that if you have made a proposal to the other side that they rejected, you can then follow up with a more reasonable proposal that they may end up accepting.

When we are using framing in a negotiation, the contrast effect suggests a strategic move: Ask for more than you realistically expect, accept the rejection when it comes, and then shade your next offer downward. The other side is likely to find a reasonable offer even more appealing after rejecting an offer that was out of the question.

What All Of This Means For You

During a principled negotiation, it turns out that the offer that you make to the other side may not determine if they accept or reject it. Instead, how you make that offer to them may hold the key to your success. How you present your proposal is called framing and if done correctly you can get the other side to accept it.

Framing has to do with the how the other side views your proposal. During a negotiation we need to keep in mind that the other side can become overwhelmed if we present them with too many choices. We need to limit the number of options that we present them with to around three. Presenting multiple equivalent simultaneous offers shows them what is important to you. Their reaction will show you what is important to them. You need to be able to use the contrast effect to allow your first proposal to be rejected so that your follow on proposal will be seen as more acceptable.

We know that the proposal that we are going to be placing before the other side during a negotiation is a good proposal. That’s why we want them to accept it. However, if we’re not careful how we present it may cause them to reject it. Taking the time to carefully frame your proposal will allow you to get the other side to see it your way and accept it.

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

Question For You: When you are going to make multiple offers to the other side, should you make them all at once or spread them out over time?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

There are some negotiating situations that we can find ourselves in that are trickier than other. For example, if you were negotiating the lease of a warehouse for yourself but you though that someone else might come along in the future and offer to pay more than you to the landlord, you wouldn’t want to get asked to move at a time that was inconvenient for you. In order to prevent this, you could have a right of first refusal baked into your contract that would allow you to match any higher offer that your landlord was offered so that you didn’t have to move. Just exactly how does this right of first refusal thing work?