(written with Prof. Suzanne de Janasz. This article was originally published on the Huffington Post)


Imagine you need a new set of headphones. Your daughter strongly suggested you buy the ones from Beats. As you go to a website, you see the following options:


  • Beats Solo priced at 129.99 dollars and rated 6 out of 10
  • Beats Studio priced at 219.99 dollars and rated 8 out of 10


Which ones would you buy?


Imagine the same scenario, but this time the website gives you three options:


  • Beats Solo priced at 129.99 dollars and rated 6 out of 10
  • Beats Studio priced at 219.99 dollars and rated 8 out of 10
  • Beats Executive priced at 399.99 dollars and rated 7 out of 10


Now which ones would you buy?


We have run this type of exercise several times in our negotiation workshops and have seen a clear shift in choice. While about 50% of people would choose the Beats Studio in the first scenario, this percentage goes up to about 75% in the second scenario. Nothing has changed in the description of the headphones, yet how the information is presented/framed causes people to make different choices.


The recent pricing model of the Apple 6 storage capacity is another example of a clever application of this technique: 16GB @199$, 64GB @ 299$, 128GB @ 399$. By offering three options and excluding the 32 GB option, Apple has shifted consumer preferences towards the 64 GB model.


Substantial research shows that losses loom larger than gains. You will be more influential if you present your proposal as a means of reducing costs, losses, or avoid deaths than if you present a proposal—with the same expected final value—as a way to increase gains, profits or save lives.For example, “by failing to implement this new enterprise-wide software, your company will lose X dollars per year” will be more successful than would “implementing this new enterprise-wide software can generate savings of X dollars per year.”If you were in charge of the World Health Organization, how might you present your case to country leaders for implementing a strict, time-consuming protocol at borders and airports to stem the spread of the deadly Ebola virus?


These examples illustrate a powerful negotiation technique called framing. How we frame our message—avoiding a loss, maximizing a gain, choice among options—influences how our negotiating counterpart perceives the problem and therefore considers options for resolving it.Marketers have long practiced these methods—markdowns, quantity buys, one-time offers– to influence consumer purchase decisions.Similarly, effective negotiators use framing to influence others’ perceptions about a concession or an offer.


Another way of using the technique of framing involves the choice of the unit of measure. In the negotiation between home seller and home buyer, a difference of $50,000 (on the seller’s counteroffer of $1 million) sounds a lot less to the buyer if framed as a few dollars more in the monthly mortgage payment.Similarly, asking your boss for a raise of $500/month may be more palatable than asking for $6000/year.


Even the name that you choose for a project or initiative may shape others’ perceptions. When a Procurement organisation chooses a name such as Project “Squeeze” or “Shark”, it conveys a different message to the suppliers than does the name “Focus” or “Crossroads.” In a role play in our MBA classrooms, students’ attitudes are starkly different if we call the same exercise “A Tough Boss” versus “An Interesting Challenge.”A picture (or a metaphor) is worth a thousand words, and easily evokes emotions or attitudes that can influence the outcome.The manager who makes a case for pursuing a joint venture with a previous competitor has a choice.What would have greater influence on your opinion?Hearing “If you can’t beat them, join them” or the metaphor “We’re in this boat together.We’ll move forward in this competitive market faster and farther if we row in the same direction.”


You too can use framing to be more effective in your next negotiation. Prepare your arguments in advance and consider the following:


  • Focus on what the counterpart prefers and needs
  • Use an appropriate reference, benchmark or unit of measure that best enhances the value of what you are offering
  • Identify picturesque language and concrete examples that evokes positive attitudes and a desire to minimize losses


Doing so will increase the likelihood of success – in the workplace and beyond.


P.S. Thank you to the hundreds of readers that have shared our last article about timing in negotiation.


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About the authors:


Formerly professor of leadership at IMD in Lausanne, Switzerland,

Dr. Suzanne de Janasz joins Seattle University this year as the Gleed Distinguished Professor of Business, where she continues her teaching and research on leadership, mentoring, negotiation, and balancing work/family. Her first text, Interpersonal Skills in Organizations, is now in its 5th edition and she published Negotiation and Dispute Resolution in 2013. Suzanne is a regular columnist for the Huffington Post and has published articles in multiple journals, including Harvard Business Review. You can follow her on @SuzannedeJanasz and reach her at dejanasz@outlook.com

Giuseppe Conti, “The Creator of Master Negotiators”, is a recognized expert in the field of Negotiation and a regular lecturer at top-ranked European Business Schools, including BMI, ESADE, HEC Lausanne, HEC Paris, IMD, INSEAD, Oxford, RSM, SDA Bocconi, and University of Geneva. Managers from over 90 different countries have attended his highly interactive and hands-on workshops. He is a seasoned negotiator combining academic content with a rich practitioner experience from his senior procurement and commercial leadership roles with blue chip multinationals (Procter & Gamble, Novartis, Firmenich, Merck). He runs custom negotiation workshops for leading corporations in Europe and Asia as well as open enrollment programs in English, French and Italian in Geneva (Switzerland), Zurich (Switzerland), and Milan (Italy). Please visit his website at www.cabl.ch for more information.