To avoid conflict in negotiations here are four ways to offer concessions

Key elements associated with a negotiation

In a negotiation it is important to know your own position, your interests, and what you may be willing to concede. It is also important to try and understand the same of your counterparts. Addressing conflict, capitalizing on collaboration, being empathetic, listening actively, and approaching counteroffers appropriately are keys to a successful negotiation. The emphasis in this commentary is to provide you with ideas on how you can offer concessions in a negotiation and at the right time. By planning ahead and considering these four points you may be a much better negotiator in the future

The four ideas around making concessions presented here are:

  1. Identify your concessions
  2. Expect reciprocity
  3. Consider contingent concessions
  4. Consider making concessions in installments

Let us look at each of these one at a time.


Identify your concessions


Be careful not to assume. Ask the right open-ended questions to gain understanding. Understand what is important to you and your counterpart. Explain to the other party what is important to you. For example, do not simply focus on price. Consider quality, timing, future contracts, relationships, your concerns, and theirs.

If you give up something, make it known. I am professional speaker. I may be asked to not only provide a keynote or preconference presentation, but to also offer a workshop or workshops during the main session. I should identify that as a concession on my part. I may be willing to reduce my presentation fee by some amount to help the financially strapped client. I should be clear to label these concessions to the meeting planner or client. In this way the other party is clear that I have made a concession.

Share with the other side that you indeed have given up something.

Research has shown that others tend to reciprocate based on the value of what they perceive they are benefiting. They are not as sensitive as to what you are sacrificing. That is why you need to share this with them.

Finally, take your time. Let them talk. Make concessions slowly. Let the other side contemplate what you are offering. Be patient. In my case the meeting planner likely must go to a committee. I want the committee to see me as reasonable and easy to work with through this process. This really helps.


Expect reciprocity


By expecting reciprocity this means that you need to be assertive and both demand and define reciprocity. Be diplomatic but expect reciprocity. You might need to say something like “this is not easy for me; might you now be in a position to move off your position to help too?”

Define what might work for you.

For example, on my part selling books from the back of the room, a recommendation on several media sites, a future presentation, a video promotion, and/or a recommendation on my web site might work for me. From your perspective you may want to consider an extension in time, an expanded warranty, future commitments or whatever else you might present as reasonable.

You know what you value and what might be of valuable to the other party. You must know what you want, and you have to ask for it. Then pause and consider three reasons why it may be beneficial for them too. For example, in my case promoting their event, them being seen as a leader, and being seen on my web page for addition SEO on their part may be beneficial. Look for positive affirmation on what they are doing to reinforce how this is beneficial for them too and how you like collaborating with them.


Consider contingent concessions


A long time ago I learned that making small immaterial concessions, really does not help. They do not feel like real concessions to me or the other party. They are a waste of time. However, meaningful give and take in a reasonable and fair manner is thought to be extremely helpful. But what about those that only have their interests at stake or those that you cannot trust? This is a good time to consider a contingent concession.

That is, you agree to something only if the other party agrees to make a specific concession in the future. I might be willing to accept a lessor fee if they agree to buy so many of my books for participants, or book me for a larger international venue later this year or next year. You might be willing to provide additional support if the other party bought a certain quantity of product. Give this some thought. What do they need and what are you prepared to offer?

Contingent concessions require minimal risk.

You are presenting to the other party something of a concession or benefit if they do something for you. It is dependent on what may and hopefully will happen. An additional purpose here is to build trust. Perhaps you will find out this is not the case. Sometimes you need to fire clients. On the other hand, you could build trust, and this could become a great client for you in the future.


Consider making concessions in installments


Research has shown us that we like bad news all at once, but we prefer good news in multiple messages. When buying something like a house or car making a concession over two different time frames for half of what you intended to offer is received far more favorably by the other side, than one big concession offer in one day. Keep in mind in many negotiations, there is an expectation of give and take with potentially several iterations.

You may discover that your offer for half of what you intended to offer may be accepted.

Isn’t that sweet? You keep the difference. Doesn’t that feel good?           

In general, I counsel clients to have five computations prepared or consideration. These are your starting position. Their starting position. Your Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement (BATNA). This is the position that if you do not have at least this you will walk away from the deal. Then develop two computations between your BATNA and your starting position. This exercise will help you during the negotiation because you will have thought about these five alternatives ahead of time. Having developed these five computations, you have further insight on how to adjust on a fluid negotiation.

In addition, making multiple small reasonable offers demonstrates to the other party that you are flexible and that you want to collaborate constructively with them. This will tend to let the other party feel like they want to collaborate with you too. You both want to work with professional, fair, honest counterparts that you can trust in the future. You are building good will.


Follow up


The idea for this blog came from this article from the Harvard Law School Program on Negotiation.  Check it out for additional insights and commentary. There are no guarantees in negotiations. They tend to be very fluid. However, hopefully these four points being presented from my and other perspectives may help you with sorting out your perspective in a future negotiation.

About the author

Mike Gregory is a professional speaker, an author, and a mediator. You may contact Mike directly at and at (651) 633-5311. Mike has written 12 books (and co-authored two others) including his latest book, The Collaboration Effect: Overcoming Your Conflicts, and The Servant Manager, Business Valuations and the IRS, and Peaceful Resolutions that you may find helpful. [Michael Gregory, ASA, CVA, MBA, Qualified Mediator with the Minnesota Supreme Court]