Negotiating Tip #12:
Imagining The Alternatives
What to do when you have no alternative
We all know that alternatives give negotiators the confidence to negotiate more ambitiously, to push hard for better outcomes, and to walk away from the table when needed. So what do you do when you have no alternative at all? A paper forthcoming in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that negotiators can do much better by simply imagining having an attractive alternative.
Across seven studies, using samples of over 2,500 MBA students, online participants, and working professionals, authors Michael Schaerer, Martin Schweinsberg, and Roderick Swaab divided each groups into three: those who had no alternative bids, those who had an attractive alternative bid, and those who were told to image they had an attractive alternative when in fact they had no alternative.
Not surprisingly, those with an alternative got better prices than those without one. But the most interesting result was that those told to imagine they had an alternative when they did not have one did almost as well as those who actually had an alternative.
Thinking positively matters. When negotiators were asked to imagine an unattractive alternative rather than an attractive alternative, they lowered their aspirations and did much worse than those who in fact had no alternative.
So if you find yourself negotiating in a situation where you have no alternative, a useful strategy is to use your imagination to think up what a good alternative would look like and keep that image in your mind. Of course that is not as good as actually having an alternative, but it is a step forward.