Picture this scenario: you and your significant other want to eat dinner together tonight. You’re about to leave work and you receive this laughably routine text message: “What do you want to eat?” and a familiar exchange ensues:
Partner: “What about BBQ?”
You: “Too Heavy”
You: “Had it for lunch”
Partner: “Ok – any suggestions?”
You: “That new place across the street?”
Partner: “It’s always so busy….”
Yes, we know. This happens to every single one of us. But now you can take the reins, eschew lackluster compromises, and maximize output (for both of you) with a few simple guidelines on negotiation.
By the end, you’ll have a go-to framework for optimizing dinner negotiations, a better framework for negotiating in general and, hopefully, a full and happy stomach for all!
First of all, recognize that you negotiate all the time. How many times you hit the snooze button, what Netflix show to watch next, or what to pack on your weekend getaway – these are all negotiations. You weigh pros against cons with yourself or others and decide an appropriate path forward constantly. If that adage about 10,000 hours and mastery is true, then you my friend, are already a negotiations master!
But even masters can use help in a pinch. So let’s get you ready to sidestep your way into something scrumptious the next time this scenario happens.
Your BATNA or Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement is your best walkaway choice. The keyword here is best which is completely based on your wants/desires, so spend a minute thinking about all of your alternatives before making a suggestion. If you can’t reach an agreement on food, what happens? You can eat leftovers, cook something, get takeout or not eat at all, among other things. For those with a bang-up variety of frozen meals at home, this is an excellent BATNA. For those with nothing but empty chinese cartons, you’ve got the short end of the stick.
Your leverage in any negotiation will be influenced by the strength of your BATNA relative to the options available. A better BATNA (frozen food) provides security even if you push your partner on eating at your desired location. A worse BATNA does the opposite. It is worth noting that the BATNA should be an influence not a constraint: do not let a low value BATNA suppress the pursuit of an optimal solution for you. Just keep in mind that if you fail, you’re stuck with that choice if you decide to walk away.
In summary, know your BATNA and its relative strength to you before jumping into the fry…I mean fray.
When developing our multi-issue negotiations game with Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Business, one point was clear: if possible, make the first offer. In negotiations where price is involved, there is a strong correlation between the first offer and the final offer (as noted on Kellog’s negotiations site). Put another way, if the first offer was low then the final offer is lower and if the first offer was high then the final offer tended to be higher..
Hardly anyone accepts the first offer (unless they are really, really hungry or you make an excellent first offer.) Despite this, the first offer acts as an anchoring force. If you are interested in a specific cuisine type, start off with it but keep a few adjacent options in mind. For example, if you want noodles, you might want to start with ramen but keep pho, lo mein etc. in your back pocket.
Okay, say you don’t have a satisfactory BATNA and your first few offers have been shot down – what next? Ask about interests, not positions.
Positions are about the ‘what’. I want to go to Hawaii for vacation. I need coffee at 3PM.
Interests, on the other hand, are the ‘why’. I want to go to Hawaii for vacation because I’m tired of the cold. I need coffee in the afternoon because I fall asleep otherwise.
Once you understand why someone wants something, you can suggest other solutions to achieve those desires that better align with yours. Suggest Puerto Rico or Florida for a warm vacation or more sleep to combat those afternoon blues.
For food, think of cuisine types as positions. “I want Thai food” might really mean “I want Thai food, because I want something fresh and spicy.” Armed with knowledge about underlying interests you can better negotiate a solution that satisfies both of you. Check out this primer on interests vs. positions from MIT for other examples of Positions vs. Interests. When in doubt, probe for interests!
Negotiations are about the give and take, but you can better equip yourself about what to give and how to take. These principles can be used on a wide variety of challenges so don’t forget to practice! You may end up eating chinese takeout for the 4th time that week (ie. your BATNA), but I’d call that a win anyway. Check back here for other scenarios we’ll post from time to time but until then, stay hungry!