Galinsky © Evanston Photographic
An offer they can't refuse
crafted threats can lead to big wins in negotiation - without
anyone getting really hurt
D. Galinsky and PhD Candidate Katie A. Liljenquist
Threats. The promise
of coercive action if one's demands aren't met seems the antithesis
of the Kellogg School culture, which is built around teamwork,
collegiality and the responsible exercise of leadership.
true that threats can trigger vengeance and the tragic escalation
of conflict, and their use is fraught with a host of unintended
and self-defeating consequences. But threats can be an invaluable
negotiating tool to help you satisfy your interests. As Kellogg
Brett has noted, threats may be required to get the other
party to the bargaining table, to steer a negotiation away
from impasse and toward settlement, and to secure implementation.
We have recently
published an article that provides a framework for responsible
and effective use of threats. Building on psychological research,
we contend that one should make threats that invite the other
side to respect and like you. Respect encourages credibility
and compliance, while liking discourages defensiveness. How
does one make a threat that secures a positive outcome without
inciting revenge? We believe that one can capture the upside
and avoid the downside of this strategy by employing WISE
threats, those characterized by willingness, interests,
saving face and exactness.
express willingness. A WISE threat is one in which you
are willing to impose the stated consequences in the event
of noncompliance, yet is also one in which your demands are
sufficiently reasonable so that the other side will be willing
and able to comply.
satisfy interests. A WISE threat satisfies your own interests,
targets the other side's interests and is one that will truly
help you achieve your goals. To assess whether a threat will
satisfy or violate your interests, answer these three questions:
Is your threat based on emotion? Will your threat incite a
counter-threat that dwarfs your own? Will the threat cost
you more than it will cost the other side?
A threat should
never be made under the influence of anger and other strong
emotions because these emotions reduce and inhibit your ability
to perceive your underlying interests accurately. Thus, you
should never make a threat that you did not plan in advance.
Although making a threat may give you a momentary sense of
power, threats should not have as their purpose punishing
the opposition but fulfilling your own interests. When you
forget this key point, your desire to teach the other side
a lesson may cause you to escalate a threat without regard
to the toll it could take on you.
Your threat should
target the other side's interests to ensure that the threat
will function as a motivator. Framing the threat in terms
of how compliance will further the opponent's interests, rather
than how noncompliance will thwart them, will increase effectiveness.
save face. A WISE threat also recognizes that saving face
is very important in negotiations. Judith White of the Tuck
School and I (Galinsky), along with two colleagues, have shown
that when personal prestige is threatened in a negotiation,
the action tips the balance away from cooperation toward competition,
resulting in fewer agreements and less integrative agreements.
Your threat will
affect how the other party views you, and it influences your
long-term reputation. Thus a WISE threat allows you to survive
the negotiation with pride intact and also allows the other
side to maintain its respect. To save face and secure your
reputation, avoid making weak threats and ensure that the
consequences are meaningful to the opposition. Then be certain
to follow through on the threat, but give the other side an
easy way to meet your demands by providing choices - alternative
demands that are of equal value to you. By framing their compliance
as a gift rather than a forced concession, you allow them
to comply without sacrificing their self-respect.
threats are exact. WISE threats express unambiguous contingencies,
laying out a causal "if, then" sequence of events that attaches
specific consequences to the other side's failure to meet
your demands and offers a clear timeline and escape route
for avoiding the consequences of your threat. In addition,
by being exact, you avoid future disputes about whether or
not your demands were met.