Money May Not Be What Really Matters to the Other Side

Money May Not Be What Really Matters to the Other Side


An important part of being a successful negotiator is figuring out what really matters to the other side – which they may not know. The common error is to assume the other side wants money and money alone, when in fact other things may matter more to them. Sometimes, if you offer them more money, you get a worse outcome.

the-new-york-times-negotiationConsider this July 8, 2016, New York Times column by David Brooks, “The Power of Altruism.” He writes, “In 2001, the Boston fire commissioner ended his department’s policy of unlimited sick days and imposed a limit of 15 per year. Those who exceeded the limit had their pay docked. Suddenly what had been an ethic to serve the city was replaced by a utilitarian paid arrangement. The number of firefighters who called in sick on Christmas and New Year’s increased by tenfold over the previous year.”

Brooks’s conclusion:

“When you introduce a financial incentive you prompt people to see their situation through an economic lens. Instead of following their natural bias toward reciprocity, service and cooperation, you encourage people to do a selfish cost-benefit calculation.”

Now it may sound odd to base a business decision on “reciprocity, service, and cooperation,” but in fact we all do that frequently in business. That is especially true when we are repeatedly dealing with someone. If the person from whom you buy coffee every day mistakenly gives you a $20 instead of a $10 in change, chances are high you will bring it to their attention – either out of a sense of fairness or just because of the “Golden Rule,” namely, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

negotiation rules

The principles of “reciprocity, service, and cooperation” apply even more when you are in a long-term business relationship. Consider a contractor who provides tech support to your company. You want to treat them fairly so they will treat you fairly. That means if you want them to work after hours or otherwise make a special effort, you are less likely to offer to pay them extra than you are to appeal to their good side – with the implicit understanding you would do the same for them. Your “negotiation” with them about how to get them to do the extra work is more likely to succeed if you keep money out of the picture.