June 4, 2013

Adam Grant's, "The Bad Habits of Good Negotiators"

In an email from LinkedIn.com today, they highlighted an article by Adam Grant called, "The Bad Habits of Good Negotiators." It seems to me like a lot of what Grant writes is true not just in formal negotiations, but in relating to people in general.

Grant's main points boil down to:
1) "...the best way to earn trust is to show trust." Even just sharing a bit of personal information like where you grew up, or what your hobbies are, can help to build a sense of trust.
2) Rank your priorities so that the other person understands what's most important to you.
3) This one may be more true of negotiations than relationships in general, but Grant says it's better not to sequence the issues. In other words, if you focus on salary first and ignore the rest of the issues, then once the salary is resolved, it's off the table. It can no longer be used to help in the next part of the negotiation. On the other hand, if everything remains on the table, then you could adjust salary in order to compensate for a change to another part of the negotiation.
4) Do your research so that you're prepared to make the first offer. Then make the first offer. This acts as an anchor to the negotiations and it's better to be the one who picks where that anchor is going to rest. (This section was particularly good and well worth reading the article for.)

My husband, Rob, is a really good negotiator. I don't know how he learned these skills, but he does pretty much exactly what Grant describes here. When he works from home and is negotiating with another company through a conference call, I'm often privy to the whole conversation and I've marveled at his ability to diffuse a tough situation, his strength in standing his ground over non-negotiables, and his willingness to capitulate in areas that simply aren't as important to the company.

I think Grant's first point is one that I don't personally connect well with. Giving out superfluous information when talking with someone just seems wasteful and inefficient. But my husband does it all the time. At first it used to annoy me. He'd be adding extra information in a conversation with the barista at the coffee shop or in a conversation with a friend around the dinner table. In my mind, the information didn't need to be there. It wasn't that it was bad information to share (He usually chats about college degrees with baristas since many are college students. Or he'll throw in a tangential experience during a dinner table conversation.) it's just that the extra information, in my mind, detracted from the real issue at hand (grabbing your coffee and sitting down, or focusing on the item under discussion). But over time I've seen the powerful effect that his seemingly random spurts of extra information have brought about. People look forward to seeing Rob enter the coffee shop. They greet him with a smile and the good will they feel towards him spills over to our son who gets extra whipped cream on his drinks when he's there with his dad. While I'm trying to get an idea pinned down or a task finished, Rob is building good will with the people around him.

Over time I've tried to do what Rob does. I've tried making conversation when all I really want is to finish a transaction and get out of there. And it works. The positive good will helps future transactions go more smoothly. And there's that community building/networking thing going on at the same time that sometimes comes back around in positive ways of its own. It's not like there's always an immediate positive reaction to chatting a little and building trust. Sometimes people are just too busy to reciprocate and I just have to pat myself on the back for trying and not let it get me down. But I think that that trust building piece, as well as being the one to step out there first in an interaction and set the anchor, can be really beneficial to ourselves, our relationships, and our community. It's good stuff, and well worth reading Grant's post.


  1. Nodding vigorously... because, like you, I tend to get task-focused and not see the point in these niceties - being friendly and chatty is not what I'm there for, is it, I'm there to achieve a certain goal (like getting a coffee and finding a seat) and to me friendly chat could be distracting. Like when the cashiers at the supermarket try to make conversation whilst I'm packing my stuff, I find it hard to do both at the same time, I need to concentrate on what I'm doing.

    But, though it doesn't come naturally to me, I totally see the value in that trust-building stuff, the sharing something of yourself as a kind of gesture of mutual humanness - it's like you're saying: hi, I'm human, I'm not just some anonymous customer and I'm not treating you like some kind of machine.

    My experience of different cultures tells me that this is something that will work well if you know the culture you're in, but could backfire if people feel you're oversharing or being inappropriately friendly. Like here in the UK it's perfectly reasonable (and even expected) to have a certain level of friendly chat with the cashier at the supermarket, but on my recent visit home I noticed that they don't talk to the customers at all - we're a more brash culture, with less niceties.

    oops, I'm rambling. why does this box feel more ramble-friendly than the G+ comment box? hmmm...

  2. My mother was like that too - always chatting in shops. Well, you know the old saying that we turn into our parents? I don't just go into a little shop now and buy and leave. I know most Spanish people don't either. Sometimes I find it hard to believe how much they enjoy talking. If it gets you something extra... or even a discount.


Leave me a note!