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Andrea Kupfer Schneider
Editors’ Note: When you set out to negotiate with someone, how do you evaluate what you’re really trying to achieve? Is it an unfocused want; something better than your BATNA; or anything you can get that’s above your reservation price? Schneider analyzes research showing that a conscious choice of goal helps you come out with more—your ambition is productive. Four keys to this are “making your reach a little longer than your arm”; setting goals you can justify in public without laughing or lying; making them specific; and paying real attention to goals which can’t be expressed in a number. It’s also helpful not to take yourself too seriously. Finally, Schneider argues that we need to get used to disappointment in order to achieve true success.
You can’t always get what you want,
But if you try sometimes,
You just might find,
You get what you need.
Rolling Stones, You Can’t Always Get What You Want
Good negotiators spend a lot of time thinking about how to determine their BATNA (Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement) (Fisher, Ury and Patton 2011), and assess their interests. They may not spend equal time focusing on aspirations. And, as even the Rolling Stones know, unless negotiators actually set a specific goal and try to reach it, they will undoubtedly fall short. Social science research confirms that negotiators with higher aspirations tend to achieve better bargaining results. Yet once negotiators start to focus more on aspirations, they also need to think about how aspirations should be set, how they are distinguished from a BATNA or the reservation point at which the negotiator should go to her BATNA (which, of course, is not quite the same thing as the reservation point that triggers it) and how negotiators can err in setting overly optimistic aspirations. Negotiators also need to consider the psychology behind setting and meeting high aspirations so that their overall satisfaction with their outcome accurately reflects their results. Finally, negotiators should consider aspirations broadly, focusing on more than money or other measurable criteria.
Aspirations are the specific goals in a negotiation that a negotiator wishes to achieve as part of an agreement. Aspirations can be monetary, as in, “He doesn’t want to pay more than $50,000 to settle this case,” or “She’d like to receive $300,000 for this house.” Aspirations can also be non-monetary, as in “He’d like to feel fairly treated” or “She wants the painting over the fireplace from her grandmother’s estate,” and they can often be a combination of monetary and non-monetary goals such as “He’d like to receive an apology and $75,000 to cover medical expenses plus pain and suffering.” Aspirations are based on the underlying needs and interests of the negotiator, tied to criteria, and they are conceptually independent of the negotiator’s bottom line. For example, a negotiator might be willing to sell her house for $250,000 if that is the best offer she can expect, while aspiring to receive a sale price of $300,000.
This chapter first addresses prescriptive advice on how negotiators should determine their aspirations. Richard Shell counsels that aspirations should be optimistic, specific, and justifiable (Shell 1999: 30-34). The chapter then turns to the risks of high aspirations as well as the psychological implications of these aspirations.
Negotiators should establish optimistic aspirations because as empirical evidence has shown, negotiators with higher aspirations tend to achieve better bargaining results. The classic study demonstrating this proposition was run by psychologists Sidney Siegel and Lawrence Fouraker in 1960 (Siegel and Fouraker 1960: 64). One set of negotiators was given a modest goal of a $2.10 profit in a buy-sell negotiation and the other set was given the “high aspirations” of $6.10. Both sets were told that they could keep any profits they made and could qualify for a second, “double-their-money” round if they met or exceeded their specified bargaining goals. The negotiators with the more ambitious $6.10 goal achieved a mean profit of $6.25, far outperforming the median profit of $3.35....
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