Negotiation

When Negotiating, Choose Your Words Very, Very Carefully

When Negotiating, Choose Your Words Very, Very Carefully
Image credit: Kai Schreiber | Flickr

There's a reason negotiating is often referred to as an art: Achieving what you want without settling or offending the other party is a tricky business.

From body language to discussion strategies, there are thousands of tips for getting it right. Now, comes a new study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology that examines how subtle changes in language can significantly impact a negotiation's efficacy.

The researchers, led by Professor Dr. Roman Trötschel at the Leuphana University of Lüneburg in Germany, conducted eight studies involving a total of 650 subjects and consistently found that when people constructed sentences where the focus was placed on what the other party stood to gain as opposed to what they stood to lose, they achieved more favorable results.

In a press release, the researchers offered this hypothetical: Say you need to sell your used car, and you have a prospective buyer who wants to discuss price. You'd ideally like $9,800 for it. (That price was originally given in euros; we've converted it to dollars.)

Related: 7 Ways to Be a Better Negotiator

Of course, there are multiple ways to present this information. One possibility: "I would like $9,800 for the car." Or, the very similar: "I will give you the car for $9,800."

The meaning in both sentences is identical, and yet in the first variation, the focus rests on what the buyer will lose in the transaction, while the latter shifts the focus to what he or she will gain.

These slight linguistic nuances can significantly impact a negotiation's outcome, the researchers found: "We were able to demonstrate that the party, whose loss is emphasized in the negotiation, is less willing to make concessions," Trötschel said.

Practically, those attempting to make a hard sell should avoid lowering the price immediately (which returns the focus to money, i.e. what the buyer give up), but instead add extra incentives and/or perks, a strategy that emphasizes what a buyer will take away from the negotiation.

Related: How to Set the Right Tone for Contract Negotiations