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Who goes first?

Stephen White
Who Goes First

The single most common dilemma facing negotiators is Who Goes First. I know this because it is the most debated issue when we discuss proposal-making with Scotwork participants. The default position of most Northern Europeans and North Americans is to hold back – let the other side pitch first. That way they might propose something even better for me than I was expecting. And if they don’t, nothing lost.

That is wrong, for two reasons. Firstly because the probability of their proposal being unexpectedly better for you than the one you were going to pitch is vanishingly small. And secondly, because any proposal they make, as long as it is reasonable, is a powerful tool. It gains the ascendancy, it structures the geography of the deal. The counterparty has to overwhelm it to gain traction. And if the counterparty is you, be prepared for an uphill struggle to get back to where you wanted to be.

So our standard advice is – at the appropriate time to make a proposal Go First.

Except that sometimes standard advice is wrong. Here is an example.

My internet contract expired 18 months ago. The provider then pushed up the monthly ‘out of contract’ price from £44 to £50, and then a few weeks ago to £62. I was being taken for a can’t-be-bothered-to-change mug. They should have been ashamed of themselves for taking advantage. In fact, eventually they were – they wrote to me to say there was a better deal available for loyal customers, at £52.

On their website, the same deal was available to new subscribers at £32.50. That got me cross. I went on to live chat, expecting a battle.

Having established my credentials ‘Kirsten’ at their end asked me what my problem was. I replied that I wanted a better deal than £62 if I was going to renew my contract, and that I knew from their website that new subscribers got to pay £32.50, which I proposed should apply to me as well.

Kirsten stopped typing. Perhaps she had gone to make a cup of tea. I went to make a cup of tea.

When I got back to my screen Kirsten was typing again. She regretted that she couldn’t offer me a rate of £32.50. However, she could offer me a rate of £32. Would that be OK?

I stopped typing. Was she playing with me? Were we in some sort of Monty Pythonesque world where I would complain that wasn’t good enough, and reverse-negotiate the price up to £33? Or would she recognise her mistake - sorry, £32 was a mistype, I meant £52??

I changed the subject and asked if there were any newer router models which might come my way free of charge? No, I was up to date. I took the £32 deal.

I still don’t understand it – perhaps Kirsten was an AI robot badly programmed. Perhaps it was a mistype but she was too embarrassed to admit it. Go figure. I am unexpectedly happy.

Stephen White
More by Stephen White:
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