It may seem hard to believe, but the way you phrase your requests can be a game-changer in negotiation.

And there’s a huge amount of research to back this up: people, it seems, respond differently to messages simply based on how they’re framed (Tversky & Kahneman, 1981).

For example, a 2011 study by Grant and Hofman used two messages on signs in a hospital bathroom, both with the same desired outcome of staff hand washing.

Sign 1: Hand hygiene prevents you from catching diseases.
Sign 2: Hand hygiene prevents patients from catching diseases.

The tiny change of ‘you’ to ‘patients’ resulted in a jump from 34% compliance to 54%! The reframing of the message had an obvious influence on staff members.

You can try using the power of framing in your next negotiation. A powerful way to put this approach into action is by ‘separating gains’ and ‘combining losses’.

Separate gains and combine losses

Consider this: Would you prefer to a) find a $20 note on the footpath? Or b) find a $10 note on the footpath in the morning and another $10 note later that day?

Research by Richard Thaler (1985) showed that while it’s ultimately the same outcome, most people feel far more satisfied with option b).

Replace ‘find’ with ‘lose’ in those two scenarios and the second option makes people feel worse. This is because people like to make gains incrementally but prefer a lump sum loss.

Let’s apply this to negotiations.

Reframe it – 1 benefit versus 3

Say you’re putting yourself forward to win a project with a client. You could say something like this:

The project will be completed ahead of schedule and within budget.

Okay, that’s fine. But let’s reframe it by breaking the benefit up into several pieces and you’ll end up with this:

  • The project will be completed to a high standard, meeting all quality requirements.
  • The project will come in under budget.
  • The project will be completed ahead of schedule – no later than April 10.

Now that sounds far more appealing. Instead of one benefit, you’ve presented three. For a written proposal, this looks great, but try presenting each of your benefits at different points when you’re negotiating in person to maximise the value perceived by your counterpart (Malhotra & Bazerman, 2008).

Aggregate requests

Don’t forget – when you’re the one making requests of others, you should do the opposite. Much like ripping off a bandaid, aggregating any requests you have in a negotiation will be less painful for your counterpart and hopefully ensure they see how greatly your benefits outweigh your requests!

Free negotiation planner

Plan out your next negotiation to perfection – our free negotiation planner is the perfect tool to help you nail it. Download it here. To learn more about interest based negotiation, we recommend the book “Getting to Yes by Roger Fisher & William Ury.”

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