The Science Behind Negotiations: What Research Tells Us About Getting to Yes

Whether you’re trying to get the best deal on that new car, find bargains at a yard sale, or get a pay raise at work, you are constantly using negotiation in your daily life. We all want to get the best deal possible, but not all of us are great negotiators. Fortunately, the ability to negotiate is an important skill that, like any other skill, can be practiced and improved. Despite popular belief that good negotiators just have a natural knack, anyone can become a good negotiator with the right mindset and plenty of practice. 


For decades, researchers have been studying the science behind negotiations and have found that there are a wide variety of factors that drive us to agree to the requests of others. This research has shown that our decision-making process is not necessarily guided by logical examination of facts, but rather by universal shortcuts our brains take to make quick decisions in overwhelming situations.  Understanding this research and implementing it correctly can greatly increase your chances of getting to “yes” in your next negotiation. Here are a few scientific principles that can help you persuade others when you are negotiating. 

The Principles of Liking

As the name suggests, the science of persuasion indicates that people are more likely to accept the requests of people they like. Generally, we like people for three reasons: they are similar to us, they pay us compliments, or they cooperate with us in the pursuit of common goals. In terms of negotiation, research shows that likeability is one of the most important factors in reaching a successful outcome. Therefore, take some time to get to know your counterpart and find common ground before proposing any terms. 


People tend to want more of something when quantities are limited. Consider the following sales tactic: A new shoe is hitting the market but the company is only making a limited amount of these shoes so you have to get them before they are all gone. To this same point, effective negotiation requires you to demonstrate the value of your product as well as its limited availability. You want to convince your prospect of the benefits of acting now on your offer. 


In general, people tend to trust others who appear knowledgeable, credible, and trustworthy. Doctors are a great example of this. You tend to believe what your doctor tells you because you feel good about their expertise. The same is true for negotiations. You want to convince your prospect that you are an authority on the matter at hand before you attempt to influence their decision. Once you have established credibility, you are seen as someone who can be trusted which in turn makes you more persuasive. 


When someone gives you a gift, you tend to feel obligated to give one back in return. This can be a great negotiating tactic. You can start by offering something to the other party, such as a discount, additional services, extra perks, or extra products. Research shows that if you give an initial gift that feels personal or customized in some way, the other person will feel indebted to repay you. 


Research has shown that people tend to act consistently with past actions. In other words, when a person agrees to a small commitment, there is a greater likelihood that they will agree to a larger commitment that is consistent with the first one. Think about a membership to a gym for example. You may be hesitant to agree to a full year membership right away, but you would be willing to try it for one month. After that one month, you are now more likely to agree to that full year. Consider this strategy when you are negotiating. Try asking for smaller commitments up front, knowing that you will likely be able to close that larger deal later on without much hassle.