After conducting a number of experiments involving negotiations such as buying, selling or
exchanging goods, psychologists found that a subtle shift in the words you use when doing the deal can affect
the outcome. They suggest you are more likely to get what you want from a negotiation when you put the emphasis on the resource you are offering to, rather the resource you are requesting from – the other party.
A new study finds you are more likely to succeed in negotiations if you emphasize the resource you are offering than the resource you are requesting.
For example, imagine you are trying to sell your car. Your potential buyer has inspected your lovingly
maintained vehicle, asked several questions and seems interested.
There is only one thing left to discuss – the price. Do you say, “I would like $9,000 for the car,” or do you
say, “I give you the car for $9,000”?
The two versions of the proposal are saying the same thing – or are they? They both contain the same
“facts” of the offer – the car in exchange for $9,000 – but there is a subtle difference in how they are
perceived by the buyer.
The psychologists – who report their findings in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology –
suggest you would be more likely to succeed in selling your car with the second version, because the first – “I
would like $9,000 for the car” – emphasizes what your buyer stands to lose ($9,000), whereas “I give you the car
for $9,000” emphasizes what they stand to gain (your car).
Lead author Roman Trötschel, a professor in the Leuphana University of Lüneburg in Germany, says they were
able to “demonstrate that the party, whose loss is emphasized in the negotiation, is less willing to make
Prof. Trötschel and colleagues carried out eight experiments involving a total of 650 participants. The
results were the same each time: if the selling party brought the resource on offer to the foreground, they
achieved better outcomes.
The tactic seems to work for buyers as well. For example, if I want to buy your car, then you would
be more likely to make concessions if I were to say, “I’ll give you $9,000 for your car,” than “I would take
the car for $9,000.”
The study found the approach also works when the deal does not involve money. For example, when trading
Fantasy collector cards, elementary schoolchildren found they were more likely to get what they wanted if they
could get their classmates to pay more attention to the cards they would gain than the cards they would
Prof. Trötschel says offers such as “My Obi Wan against your Yoda” were more successful than “Your Yoda for
my Obi Wan.”
Tactical tip: rather than lower the price, try adding something to the offer
One of the hardest parts of the negotiation process is keeping focused on the offer. For example, when you
are selling me your car, the easiest way to stay focused is to talk about the money. But doing this can slant
the language of the negotiation toward what I am going to pay and, consequently, I experience the negotiation
more as a loss.
Prof. Trötschel recommends sellers not to lower their price immediately, but instead, add something to the
offer. He suggests, for example:
“Offer to fill up the car. Throw in the winter tires, as well as a bottle of special cleaning fluid
for the paintwork. Emphasize what your vis-à-vis will gain – not the money that they would lose if you reached
He says the trader at the Hamburg Fish Market has learned this tactic. After years of experience, he has
fine-tuned his message to customers:
“I give you the salmon, and a herring free of charge, and this scrumptious plaice on top. And
all of this for only 20 Euros!”
In October 2013, Medical News Today learned of another study by psychologists investigating the
powers of persuasion that produced a surprising result. Contrary to what many experts might believe, maintaining eye contact can be counterproductive – it does not necessarily make
you more persuasive. It can even make skeptical listeners less likely to change their minds.