We all want to come out ahead in our negotiations, and according to the Harvard Business Review, there is one tactic that can vastly improve the chances of a successful negotiation.
Never start with your best offer. Lead with your arguments first. Mimic the other person’s body language, etc.
But, those surface-level tactics miss an important factor inherent in almost any negotiation.
“When we dig deeper into these high-stakes negotiations, there is a common thread that connects them all. The concept of face,” wrote HBR.
“Saving face” is a concept that refers to someone’s desire to protect their confidence and dignity, and very often, this is an important hidden factor in business deals, arguments, and high-stakes negotiations.
“Saving Face signifies a desire—or defines a strategy—to avoid humiliation or embarrassment, to maintain dignity or preserve reputation,” wrote Psychology Today.
“Often,” the article continued, “we accidentally cause another person to lose face due to misunderstanding, lack of information, or because we’re startled or shocked.”
Nobody wants to end a negotiation feeling like their self-image or honor has been damaged. And, protecting one’s dignity is a critical element in negotiations that help all parties to feel comfortable with the outcome.
Harvard Business Review cited three high-stakes examples of where saving face turned into a critical factor in the negotiation, including a hostage release in Afghanistan, a crisis negotiation in Calgary, and a business conflict between France and Brazil.
All three scenarios involved parties that wanted to feel like their dignity and reputations were being respected and valued.
When all parties are “on par” with each other, nobody feels threatened, defeated, or embarrassed by the end. And, this greatly improves the chances of coming to a successful agreement.
In your next negotiation, pay attention to face
The next time you are in a negotiation, HBR recommends focusing on saving face. Will the proposed solution cause either party to feel as if their dignity (or identity) has been lost.
Dig deeper and uncover the underlying (and sometimes hidden) position or priority of each party. If one party’s priority seems disconnected from the subject of the negotiation, then it’s probably an effort to save face.
This was especially true in HBR’s Calgary crisis negotiation example, which described a man threatening to hang himself from a tree. “What is it going to take to get you out of this tree?” asked the crisis negotiator.
Instead of a demand for money or fame, the man in the tree simply replied “If you can guess my native Canadian name I will come down.” After the negotiator asked the man’s wife of his Canadian name, he climbed down from the tree.
“I really wanted to come down, but I felt if I did you would win, and I would lose. I wanted to put you through a hoop so that I could be on par with you,” the man said.