|To be a Better Bargainer, Bracket Your Objective
Whether you're bargaining in your favorite antique store, negotiating for an
increase in pay, or trying to get the rock-bottom price for a new car, you'll do
better if you use a technique that negotiators call Bracketing. This means that
your initial proposal should be an equal distance on the other side of your
objective as their proposal.
Let me give you some simple examples:
antique dealer is asking $1200 for that antique desk that would be perfect in
the corner of your living room. You are willing to pay $1000. You should offer
You hope that your boss will give you a 10 percent increase in pay.
You should ask him for 20 percent.
The car dealer is asking $25,000 for the
car. You want to buy it for $22,000. You should make an opening offer of
Of course it's not always true that you'll end up in the middle, but
that is a good assumption to make if you don't have anything else on which to
base your opening position. Assume that you'll end up in the middle, mid-way
between the two opening negotiating positions. If you track that, I think that
how often it happens will amaze you. In little things and in big things.
In little things. Your son comes to you and says he needs $20 for
a fishing trip he's going to take this weekend. You say, "No way. I'm not going
to give you $20. Do you realize that when I was your age I got 50 cents a week
allowance and I had to work for that? I'll give you $10 and not a penny
Your son says, "I can't do it for $10, dad."
Now you have
established the negotiating range. He's asking for $20. You're willing to pay
$10. See how often you end up at $15. In our culture, splitting the difference
In big things. In 1982, we were negotiating the pay-off of a huge
international loan with the government of Mexico. They were about to default on
an $82 billion dollar loan. Their chief negotiator was Jesus Herzog, their
finance minister. Treasury Secretary Donald Regan and Federal Reserve Board
Chairman Paul Volcker represented our side. In a creative solution, we asked
Mexico to contribute huge amounts of petroleum to our strategic petroleum
reserve, which Herzog agreed to do. That didn't settle it all, however. We
proposed to the Mexicans that they pay us a $100 million dollar negotiating fee,
which was a politically acceptable way for them to pay us accrued interest. When
President Lopez Portillo heard what we were asking for, he went ballistic. He
said the equivalent of: You tell Ronald Reagan to drop dead. We're not paying
the United States a negotiating fee. Not one peso.
So now we had the
negotiating range established. We asked for $100 million dollars. They're
offering zero. Guess what they ended up paying us? That's right. $50 million
So often, in little things and in big things, we end up splitting
the difference. With bracketing, Power Negotiators are assured that if that
happens, they still get what they want.
To bracket, you must get the other
person to state his position first. If the other person can get you to state
your position first, then he can bracket you so that, if you end up splitting
the difference as so often happens, he ends up getting what he wanted. That's an
underlying principle of negotiating: Get the other person to state his position
first. It may not be as bad as you fear, and it's the only way you can bracket
Conversely, don't let the other person trick you into
committing first. If the status quo is fine with you, and there is no pressure
on you to make a move, be bold enough to say to the other person, "You're the
one who approached me. The way things are satisfies me. If you want to do this,
you'll have to make a proposal to me."
Another benefit of bracketing is that it tells you how big your concessions
can be as the negotiation progresses. Let's take a look at how this would work
with the three situations I described earlier:
The antique dealer who is
asking $1200 for that antique. You are willing to pay $1000. You offer him $800.
He comes down to $1150, which means that you can raise your offer to $850, and
still have your objective mid-way between the two proposals that are on the
You hope that your boss will give you a 10 percent increase in pay, so
you asked him for 20 percent. He offers you 5 percent, so you can now lower your
demand to 15 percent.
The car dealer who is asking $25,000 for the car. You
want to buy it for $22,000. You made an opening offer of $19,000. Then if the
dealer comes down to $24,500, you can go up to $19,500 and you will still have
your objective bracketed. If the dealer's next move is to $24,200, you can also
shift your position by $300 and go to $19,800.
There's a danger here,
however. You should not become so predictable with your responses that the other
side cannot detect your pattern of concessions. I illustrated this with
mathematically computed concessions to make my point clear, but you should vary
your moves slightly so that your reason for making a move cannot easily be
About five years ago, I bought one hundred acres of land in
Eatonville, Washington, a beautiful little town located just west of Mount
Rainier. The seller of the land was asking $185,000. I decided that it would be
a super buy if I could get it for $150,000, so I Bracketed my objective and
offered $115,000. To my astonishment, the seller accepted my offer, but had we
have ended up negotiating further and ended up in the middle between our two
opening negotiating positions, I still would have made my objective of $150,000.
Inexperienced negotiators get into trouble because they don't have the courage
to start that low. Someone who didn't understand Bracketing might offer $140,000
for the land, hoping that the seller will come down from his asking price of
$185,000 to the buyer's objective of $150,000. That's hard to do. It's hard to
get the other side to come down $35,000, when you're only willing to go up
$10,000. Or worse yet, the buyer is so uncomfortable with negotiating that he
offers the seller $150,000 with a take-it-or-leave-it attitude. That's almost
impossible to do. It's virtually impossible to get the seller to keep on making
concessions to you, when you are not willing to make any reciprocal
concessions-even if selling for $150,000 would be the right thing for the seller
If you want to be a better bargainer, take a tip from the professional
negotiators. Get the other side committed to a position first, and then bracket
your objective. You're far more likely to end up with what you want.
is the author of two of Nightingale-Conant's best selling
audiocassette programs, Secrets of Power Negotiating and Secrets of Power
Negotiating for Salespeople. This article is excerpted in part from Roger Dawson's new book -
Secrets of Power Negotiating,
published by Career Press and on sale in bookstores everywhere for $24.99.
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