May 2023

The power of delayed gratification in negotiation: How to say 'no' one more time

by R. Brian Denning

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The power of delayed gratification in negotiation: How to say 'no' one more time

May 2023 by R. Brian Denning

Back to insights


Have you ever wondered if delaying gratification could lead to better outcomes in negotiations? In this article, we explore the importance of this concept in negotiations, and provide tips for negotiating with limited time to achieve the best possible outcome. These tips include focusing on self-awareness, rejecting proposals to signal disapproval, scrutinizing past negotiations, proposing alternative counteroffers after rejecting a proposal. By implementing these strategies, you can improve your negotiation outcomes, ensuring that you don't leave any value on the table.

Imagine you are famished and you love chocolate (this might not be a stretch for you). Placed in front of you is a beautiful chocolate bar, which smells delicious, and your mouth starts watering. The person bestowing you this chocolate decadence says you can eat the chocolate right now (your stomach growls on cue). However, if you wait 15 minutes, you will receive two chocolate bars to eat whenever you choose. You are left alone with your thoughts as the clock ticks loudly.  Would you wait or take the ‘sure thing’ sitting in front of you?

Now, remember your last, long, grueling, drawn-out negotiation. You are close to agreeing to a deal and the meeting time has almost expired. This is a big opportunity, you don’t want to give up too much value, but you don’t want to lose the deal either, so stress levels are high. Your counterparty preambles that they have another meeting in a few minutes, then asks, ‘do we have a deal?’ How do you react as your heart beats faster, and you visualize time running through an hourglass?  If you are like most people, you quickly agree to the deal to reduce your stress level, give a nervous laugh, and smile while shaking hands. Your inner voice asks, ‘Was that the best deal possible, or did I rush into it?’ 

Both scenarios parallel Dr. Walter Mischel, Ph. D’s Stanford study. He placed 4-year-olds in a room, gave them each a marshmallow and observed who was able to defer satisfaction in lieu of a larger reward in 15 minutes. To determine the lifelong impact of a ‘delaying’ mindset, Dr. Mischel compiled data while keeping in touch with the children in the study for over 40 years. 

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R. Brian Denning