Self-Help Advice That Works
What to Try: Flashing forward.
When we're trying to work a deal—be it with a contractor redoing the house or a neighbor who wants to split a new power mower—we usually think of what might go wrong. We may even name a few ideas (such as, the contractor might go overbudget or the neighbor might forget to fill up the mower with gas). But that is not enough, writes Harvard Business School professor Michael Wheeler in The Art of Negotiation: How to Improvise Agreement in a Chaotic World.
Instead, pretend the negotiation has started. Now imagine there's been a major problem. Ask yourself, "What will it be?"(maybe the contractor wants to install a $700 toilet instead of a $100 one, for example). Rather than having a fuzzy idea of something that might go south, you're now assuming something will, which fosters "an attitude of watchfulness, so you'll be quicker to see if/when the process is going awry. If you're alert, you may be able to put it back on track. If not, you'll have a plan B."
Now flash forward again. This time imagine that there's been some sort of wonderful surprise in your talks. What is it? "Studies show that negotiators who set lofty goals get better deals," writes Wheeler, who also edits the Negotiation Journal at Harvard Law School. "Instead of contenting themselves with outcomes they can live with, these negotiators focus instead on how much the other party might be prepared to grant. In addition, imagining upside scenarios prepares you to recognize opportunities and find creative solutions."