There is a power
associated with the number three
Image Credit: Ines
We are all human. What this means is that for some odd and
unexplained reason no mater which negotiation styles or negotiating
techniques we are using, we all seem to like things that
come in threes. In our world it seems as though all good
things come in groups of three. Think about it, your childhood was
filled with three bears, three kings, three little pigs, etc. It
turns out that for negotiators, things that come in groups of three
can be rewarding as well.
Learn How to Negotiate in Three Dimensions.
I believe that most of us understand the importance of preparing
thoroughly for our next negotiation; however, it is all too easy
for us to focus too narrowly on tactics on the table: how to frame
an opening offer, how to be persuasive, and so on. In contrast to
what we do, professional negotiators are more likely to grasp the
importance of negotiating in three dimensions
rather than one. Negotiators need to learn how to move beyond the
first dimension of “at the table” interpersonal skills and
tactics to move on the two other dimensions: setup moves and deal
When we engage in setup this moves means taking steps to ensure
that the right people are at the right table,
engaging in the right issues in the right sequence. All too often
we assume that we’re talking to the right person in a
negotiation. But what if we’ve overlooked someone with greater
power to make a deal happen? The best negotiators set themselves up
for success by scanning the environment to identify the most
promising counterparts, options, setting, and so on. It’s equally
important to focus on how you design a deal, a third dimension in
negotiation. This includes identifying potential
tradeoffs—issues that are relatively easy for one side to
give and valuable for the other to receive. It also means thinking
about how an agreement will be implemented after the deal is signed
and comparing it closely to your other alternatives.
Always Follow the “Fall in Love with Three” Rule
When we are in a big negotiation, there is always the
possibility that when the other side presents us with a offer,
we may just fall in love with it. Just like other
times in our life when we were buying a house, a car, or some piece
of jewelry we may end up getting ourselves into trouble here. If
you decide that you “just have to have” the offer that has been
presented to you, then you’ve just made a mistake.
Negotiators understand that when they have several
appealing alternatives, they gain the power they need to
walk away from a negotiation without going below their bottom line
(BATNA). Although it can sometimes be tricky to find multiple
alternatives, such as several houses that you appreciate equally,
doing so is likely to lead you to more satisfying outcomes.
Always Make Three Offers Simultaneously.
As negotiators, our goal is to be able to create deals that will
capture the interest of the other side and will make them want to
agree with us. When we are negotiating, we can make a mistake and
create a single offer that we will present to the other
side. When we do this, what is going to happen is that the
other side will turn it down or they will accept it on the spot. If
they accept it, then you will end up haggling. Yes, this approach
can sometimes work, but it often prevents us from identifying
packages that both parties would prefer more.
So what should negotiators do when they find themselves in this
situation? Negotiators should simultaneously present three
offers that you value equally, but that vary across
issues. Such “MESOs,” or multiple equivalent simultaneous
offers, are likely to draw out your counterpart’s priorities and
interests in a way not captured by direct questioning.
What All Of This Means For You
All negotiators are people first and this means that just like
everyone else, the number three means something special to
them. In our lives, there are a large number of things
that seem to happen in threes. It turns out that the power of three
can be carried over into principled negotiations in order to help
us create better deals.
As negotiators, we need to learn how to negotiate in
three dimensions. We need to learn how to stop focusing
only on the issues that are on the table and instead start to
include thinking about setup moves and deal design. A big concern
of negotiators needs to be if we are going to fall in love with a
proposal that is presented to us. We need to make sure that we
always have multiple options that we can choose from. When we are
making offers to the other side, we need to be careful to present
them with three options so that we can get more information from
them based on which deals they reject and why.
No, in the world of negotiating there really is no magic.
However, you can’t argue with the fact that the number three sure
does seem to play a big role in all of the things that we do.
Keeping this in mind, make sure that the next time that you are
involved in a negotiation you don’t allow yourself to get
sold short – always do things in three!
– Dr. Jim Anderson
Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Negotiating Skills
Question For You: If the other side doesn’t present
you with three options, what should you do?
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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time
How good are you at predicting the future? Are you the person
who can always guess who will win the Superbowl each year? Can you
guess someone’s age when you meet them the first time? If you are
like most of us, the future is a big mystery to you. That’s why a
lot of negotiations grind to a halt – both sides think
that the future is going to turn out differently and they
are not willing to sign an agreement that doesn’t line up with
what they think is going to happen.
Is there any way around this problem?
Negotiators Need To Fall In Love With The Number 3 appeared
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