In negotiating, providing the other party with options where they can exercise choice is a powerful technique.
In the dark and harrowing days of World War 2, soldiers in the German Army dreaded the idea of being sent to the Russian Front. The reality of such an assignment was that it involved almost certain death – if a bullet didn’t kill you, the frigid conditions likely would. Given the choice between the least desirable posting and taking on the front, you’d be hard pressed to find a soldier who would choose the latter.
Of course, those in command of these soldiers recognised the power which lay behind offering such a choice and exploited it - “You can either choose to take this dangerous mission behind enemy lines or we’ll send you to the Russian Front”. Faced with such a predicament, these soldiers agreed to something they otherwise would not have.
Moral dilemma aside, there is a valuable lesson to be extracted from an otherwise appalling moment in history.
In negotiating, providing the other party with options where they can exercise choice is a powerful technique. If you ask your child whether they want toast for breakfast, they may say no. Try asking them whether they want jam or vegemite? In the first, they exercise personal autonomy by rejecting your suggestion. In the second, the autonomy is focused on the spread - the toast is a ‘given’.
A variation on this theme is to make one of the choices unacceptable thereby forcing the other party to select the option you prefer. This is the tactic applied to the German soldiers in WW2 and as such, the technique has hence become known as a “Russian Front” approach. In Scotwork language, we often refer to it as an ‘Either/Or proposal. Commercially, this could look something like “Either pricing goes up by 4% in January OR you allow us to invoice you for 2022 in December 2021, and the pricing can remain the same”.
Many negotiators are reluctant to give choice for fear of rejection. However, by providing choice through an Either/Or proposal, at least you can open a dialogue about which of the two they prefer. Additionally, you’re also helping to reduce the emotion by giving them control over the situation. Also... it’s harder to resent your counterparty for a decision you’ve made!
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