In Negotiating, What is the Right Balance Between Giving and Taking?

The core of negotiation is how do you compromise, or what’s called the process of give and take. And specifically, what kind of balance should you strike between giving and taking?

To put that question in a broader context, negotiating has a competitive side and a cooperative side. Some people may seem hyper-competitive, but the very reason they are negotiating is to get to an agreement, and that means they have to be at least minimally cooperative to make a deal happen.

At Mobus Creative Negotiating, we talk about three different ways people approach reciprocation. We draw inspiration from the work of Adam Grant at the Wharton School, who wrote in his book Give and Take about Givers, Takers, and Matchers.

TAKERS see the world as a competitive dog-eat-dog rat race. They want to claim as much value for themselves as they can, and are not overly sensitive to leaving the other person with less.

GIVERS pay more attention to what people need from you instead what you can get from them.

MATCHERS operate on the principle of tit for tat. When people do them a favor, they repay in kind. And when they help someone else out, they expect equal repayment. They’re real good at score keeping.

best negotiation tipWhich is the most and least successful approach in terms of professional advancement? Grant studies this question by looking at engineers and measuring success by the number of tasks, technical reports and drawings completed, in addition to errors made, deadlines missed and money wasted. Here’s what he found: that givers were the least productive and effective engineers. Compared with takers, on average, givers earned 14% less money, have twice the risk of being victims of crime and are judged 22% less powerful and dominant.


Which leads to the question: How do you get your fair share in a negotiation? There’s a bunch of rules. First: Protect your confidential information. Another rule is don’t concede first if you can help it. And that ties into another one: Keep the concessions small.

We could keep going, but you get the point. The rules come under the general heading of: Being a Giver is a losing strategy in negotiation. If you’re so concerned with looking out for the other guy that it prevents you following the rules of successful negotiating and taking care of yourself.