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How to Negotiate Like a Rational Person

Topics: Negotiation

Do you feel guilty (or irritated) when you’re negotiating a starting salary, a raise, or benefits? The problem might be an over-reliance on intuition and emotion, instead of logic and rational thought.


(Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Harvard Law School’s Program on Negotiation offers tips for folks who tend to negotiate from their hearts instead of their heads. In a blog post from earlier this year, PON’s staff writes:

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“Most negotiators believe they are capable of distinguishing between situations in which they can safely rely on intuition from those that require more careful thought — but often they are wrong. In fact, most of us trust our intuition more than evidence suggests that we should.”

To combat this, they advise distinguishing between system 1 and system 2 thought (as coined by Keith Stanovich of the University of Toronto and Richard F. West of James Madison University).

System 1 thought is based on intuition. It’s effortless, automatic, and immediate.

System 2 thought is based on logic. It’s slower, more thoughtful, and more considered.

Negotiators tend to fall back on system 1 thought during times of cognitive overload, according to Harvard, and that’s fine, as long as the negotiation in progress isn’t of lasting importance to your career. In other words, when people are bickering about where to go for lunch, you might feel overloaded, but you’re not likely to tank your chances at a promotion, unless you flip out and threaten to stop producing unless everyone drops everything and goes to McDonald’s.

How can you make sure you don’t fall back on system 1 thought when system 2 is required? PON’s staff offers four techniques to ensure that you use the right thinking at the right time. In brief, they are:

1. Make a system 2 list.

2. Don’t let time pressure affect your decisions.

3. Partition the negotiation across multiple sessions.

4. Adopt an outsider lens.

The bottom line is that you should do whatever you have to do (within reason) to make sure that you’re not making decisions under pressure, before you’ve had time to deliberate. Without time enough to process your options, you’ll always be going with your gut — even when you shouldn’t.

Tell Us What You Think

What are your best negotiating tips? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

Jen Hubley Luckwaldt
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