How to Avoid Splitting the Difference

by Jacqui Brauman

How to Avoid Splitting the Difference

by Jacqui Brauman

by Jacqui Brauman

This is about negotiation, and the tactic of “splitting the difference”. 

Unfortunately, splitting the difference is a fairly lazy strategy.

In fact many solicitors use this strategy, particularly when they go into a shuttle-style mediation. Mostly because they haven’t been trained any other way. 

There are plenty of other ways to resolve a conflict, far more creatively than just splitting the difference. 

So what are some of those? And how do you even access some of those strategies in a negotiation? Particularly when you’re in a negotiation where the other side just wants to split the difference? 

The first alternative strategy is that you can keep bringing the negotiation away from the actual dollar amounts, and not engage in the split the difference conversation. Instead open the conversation up broader and listen more – listen about what the other party actually wants.

Listening is one of the best skills in conflict resolution. 

The more information you have, the more power you have. 

The more you know about what the other person wants, the more you can realise how many other options there might be. How many things that you might be able to give the other person that doesn’t cost you very much at all, but in fact means a lot to the other person. 

This listening and delving deeper strategy actually increases the pie. If you think that what you’re negotiating over is just like a large pie, and that’s all you’ve got to split, the you’re limited. BUT, if you start bringing in extra components, you can turn your large pie into a family size pie with sides and drinks and plenty to go around for everyone. 

Just looking at dollar amounts, and trying to split and come to a middle point with a dollar amount, leaves everyone unhappy because you’re just compromising.

Let’s actually look to what everyone actually wants!

If it’s revenge, then you might not get very far unfortunately. And if you’re the kind of woman who lives in your integrity, then you won’t be driven by revenge.

Another way of trying to engage the other party, and open up the conversation so that you’re looking at more than just splitting the difference, is the rule of reciprocity. 

Psychologically, people really want to reciprocate when something is done or given to them generously. It feels unfair if you don’t reciprocate. So it’s this funny psychological social norm that we work within.

In a negotiation, you can use this rule of reciprocity, and you can do small things to try and generate this feeling in the other person. 

Either you can be generous in an area that doesn’t matter to you as much. Or you can display generosity in an unrelated way – it’s amazing how a small generous gesture can have an effect in the negotiation itself. An example could be; bringing along a large bag of M&Ms and sharing them around. Not only does the extra sugar help the brain to function under stress, but the act of sharing can generate trust and reciprocity in the negotiation itself!

The key is to actually know what you want and then to build the skills to have the difficult conversations in an influential way to orchestrate what you want.

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