First Impressions Do Matter When You Are Negotiating

It turns out that warmth and competence are crucial when negotiating
It turns out that warmth and competence are crucial when negotiating
Image Credit: Martin Heigan

I’m pretty sure that we’ve all heard that people make first impressions about us. In a negotiation, the expectation that someone is “tough” or “cooperative” can become a self-fulfilling prophecy at the bargaining table. When you approach an allegedly tough competitor with suspicion and guardedness, he is likely to absorb these expectations and become more a more competitive negotiator. How can we make this first impression thing work for us during a negotiation?

The Power Of A First Impression

When we are dealing with issues like this, it’s always best to check out what the research can tell us. In this case, research has shown that negotiators who were believed to be competitive were treated by their counterparts with suspicion. In turn, negotiators who were believed to be tough responded by acting tough; they failed to share information or to persuade the other party to make concessions. What was the result of these first impressions? Subpar bargaining outcomes for both sides.

What negotiators need to realize is that reputations can be “sticky.” Once they are formed, they become fixed in negotiator’s minds. When we get new information about the other side, we tend to dismiss it and instead remain focused on our initial views and impressions. Research has shown that it’s easier to tarnish a good reputation than it is to reform a bad reputation.

How Can We Use First Impressions In Negotiations?

What all of this means is that as a negotiator, there is all the more reason to use our negotiation styles and negotiating techniques to cultivate a cooperative reputation from the start and strive to maintain during the negotiation. You might be surprised to learn that warmth and competence make up a full 80% of our judgments of others.

It turns out that in both personal conversations and negotiation conversations, we perceive warmth before competence and usually weigh warmth more heavily. In certain conditions, such as hiring and promotions, however, we care more about competence than warmth. These facts make sense when viewed in light of human evolution. Like our earliest ancestors, when encountering a stranger, negotiators try to quickly size up whether the person is a friend or foe.

That is, we ask ourselves, what are their intentions toward me? Intentions can be judged on a continuum ranging from warm to cold. Warmth encompasses traits such as trustworthiness, sincerity, friendliness, and kindness; coldness encompasses opposite traits, from deception to cruelty. After determining someone’s intentions toward us, we next assess their ability to carry them out. In negotiation conversations, will a counterpart react positively to your attempts to create value, or will he try to take advantage of such efforts? Without even realizing it, we make such assessments in the earliest moments of a negotiation.


What All Of This Means For You

It turns out that how a principled negotiation is going to turn out may be determined before either side has a chance to say a word. First impressions are formed early on and can be very tough to dispel during a negotiation. As negotiators, we need to be aware of this and we need to find ways to make first impressions work for us.

Research tells us that once formed, a first impression can lead us to act in ways that will lead to less than ideal negotiating outcomes. First impressions can be sticky and can stay stuck in the other side’s mind throughout the negotiations. It is in our own best interest to cultivate a warm and competent reputation from the beginning. Warmth is an important part of forming this type of reputation. We also need to determine what the other side’s intentions towards us are. We can then determine if they can carry out their intentions. All of these decisions are made early on in a negotiation.

Negotiators need to understand the power of a first impression. We need to understand that the other side is judging us and likewise we are judging them even before the negotiations start. If we realize this, then we can take steps to create a reputation that will allow us to get a good deal out of this negation. Carefully manage the first impression that you present and you can control the outcome of your next negotiation.


– Dr. Jim Anderson Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Negotiating Skills™


Question For You: If we give off the wrong first impression, what can we do about it?


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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

As negotiators we all understand that threats and ultimatums are a part of the process of negotiating no matter what negotiation styles or negotiating techniques are being used. We’ll make threats sometimes in order to get the attention of the other side and likewise they’ll threaten us. The big question that we need to be able to answer is when you are threatened, should you strike back with a counterthreat?

First Impressions Do Matter When You Are Negotiating