Overcoming Self-Serving Bias in Negotiation: Strategies and Techniques

Negotiation is an art, and the best negotiators understand that it's more than just haggling over numbers. It's about understanding people's needs, goals, and priorities, and finding ways to create mutually satisfying solutions. But when self-serving bias creeps in, negotiations can quickly become a game of cat and mouse, with each side focused on their own interests, rather than working together to find a mutually beneficial solution.

Self-serving bias is a common psychological phenomenon that affects us all. It often arises when we negotiate, as we become fixated on our own interests, and lose sight of the big picture. If left unchecked, this bias can lead to misunderstandings, missed opportunities, and even resentment. The good news is that there are strategies and techniques that you can use to overcome self-serving bias and become a more effective negotiator.

Understand Your Own Biases

The first step in overcoming self-serving biases is to become aware of them. Take the time to understand your own biases and how they might influence your behavior during a negotiation. Ask yourself what your goals are, what you hope to achieve, and whether your actions are in line with the overall objectives. For example, if you are negotiating a salary increase with your boss, your goal may be to get the highest possible salary. But, if you take a step back and think about the bigger picture, you might see that a slight compromise on salary could lead to other benefits like more flexible work hours, development opportunities, or additional perks that would give you a better overall work-life balance.

Focus on Shared Interests

The most successful negotiators are those who can find common ground with the other party. When you shift your focus from 'me' to 'we', you create room for collaboration and problem-solving. When self-serving biases arise, remind yourself that the other party has needs and goals too. Focus on finding shared interests that can be leveraged to create win-win outcomes. For example, if you are negotiating a contract with a vendor, instead of just haggling over the price, try to see if there are other areas where they can provide more value, such as faster delivery times or additional services that can help your business grow.

Avoid Cognitive Traps

Cognitive traps are mental shortcuts that often lead to irrational, and sometimes harmful, decision-making. Some common cognitive traps that arise during negotiations include the anchoring effect (getting fixated on the first offer made), the halo effect (seeing the other party as either good or bad), and the confirmation bias (only seeing information that confirms our own opinions). To avoid these traps, try to remain open-minded, consider all the available facts, and take a step back to evaluate the situation objectively.

Use Active Listening Skills

One of the most effective strategies for overcoming self-serving bias is to become a better listener. By listening actively to the other party, you can gain a deeper understanding of their needs and goals, and find ways to create solutions that benefit both parties. Active listening involves not only hearing what the other party is saying but also paying attention to non-verbal cues, paraphrasing their statements, and asking clarifying questions. By doing so, you show the other party that you are genuinely interested in their perspective and build trust and rapport.

Seek Out Feedback

Finally, to become a better negotiator, you need to be willing to seek out feedback from others. Ask trusted colleagues or mentors to observe you during negotiations and provide feedback on what you could have done differently. When you receive feedback, focus on the areas where you can improve and use that information to become a better, more effective negotiator.

Overcoming self-serving bias is essential for anyone who wants to become a successful negotiator. By understanding your own biases, focusing on shared interests, avoiding cognitive traps, using active listening skills, and seeking out feedback, you can create win-win outcomes that benefit all parties. Remember, negotiation is an art, and like any art form, it takes practice and dedication to become great. So, keep these tips in mind, stay open-minded, and don't be afraid to try new things. 

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