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Perception & Perspective In Negotiation


Look At It This Way…

We’ve all heard that it is important to “put yourself in the other guys shoes” in negotiation.  It helps you to understand their perspective so that you can more easily come to mutual agreement.  A new research study shows how important “big picture” thinking can be to the achieving a great outcome in negotiation…

The Study

“The trick to forgetting the big picture is to look at everything close-up.”

Chuck Palahniuk

A recent study at The University of Texas at Austin shows that people with physical distance between them have more mutually satisfactory outcomes (both-win) in negotiation.  The research findings indicate that when people have distance between them (or think they do) they re-prioritize negotiation points.

They focus more on the “higher level motives” driving their negotiation decisions.  In other words, they focus on their over-arching goal in negotiation instead of on the details. That change in perspective helps them to focus on the Big Picture.

The thing is, there was no real distance between the negotiators.  The perception of distance worked on the brain’s understanding of metaphor and translated it into mental distance – get the picture?  So a perceived (imagined) change in physical perspective (distance) caused a mental shift in the way the negotiators perceived the negotiation points.  Is your head spinning yet?

Creating Big Picture Perspective On Your Own

Of course, “getting a better look at something”, “seeing the big picture”, “getting some distance from a problem”, and “looking at things from another angle” are all well-established ways of creative problem solving.  But what does a different perspective really do?

A change of perspective causes a change in your mental state of awareness.  Many times, a shift in awareness allows the brain to access more information so that you can make better decisions and devise more creative solutions.

More ways of perceiving a challenge = more flexibility and options for resolution.

“I like my friends to be the hitters. The pitchers, they all have the same brain as I do. The hitters see the game from a different perspective.”

Joe Mays

Perspective Shift (a/k/a state change) Can Be Achieved In Many Ways.

Distance is only one perspective shift.  What about all of the other possibilities?  Can other changes (or perceived changes) in your perspective help you realize more creative solutions and better negotiation outcomes?  You bet!

While the examples we have been talking about here are primarily visual, the same kind of shift in mental “perspective” can be achieved using music, movement, environment, time, and a million other ways…those feel-good oldies songs playing at the grocery store are no accident!  That mood lighting in your favorite romantic restaurant is calculated to change your state…

Use Your Imagination!

“Imagination is everything. It is the preview of life’s coming attractions.”

Albert Einstein

Albert Einstein imagined riding on a beam of light and used the information he discovered during his imagery to develop special relativity.  More recently, students in the UK pretended to be bees in order to better understand perspective of the bees they were studying.  Their innovative study broke ground in the study of bees and they became the youngest scientists to be published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Your imagination is a powerful tool!

In this recent negotiation study, the perceived distance between negotiators was not “real”.  It was imagination and illusion, yet it still worked.  The next time you find yourself examining an upcoming decision or challenge, play with changing the perspective in your imagination.  Here are a few fun ways to do that:

Ask yourself,

  • “What would change about this if I were 1000 miles away?”
  • “How will I see this decision 5 years from now?”
  • “What would _____ (James Bond, Oprah, Donald Trump) do?”
  • “How would I feel about this decision if…______ (ex. I had more time)?”
  • “How would I look at this differently if I KNEW I would succeed?”

You might be dealing with a merger, a difficult conversation, or looking for unique spin to put on an existing product or project.  No matter what your goal, a change in perspective can help you to recognize more options and find more elegant solutions to negotiations, decisions, goals, objections and challenges.

You Can Shift Your Perspective Manually

You don’t even have to use your imagination to tap into another level of options and solutions – your inner genius.  Changing your physical viewpoint can be as powerful as changing your mental viewpoint.  In fact, one of the tried and true methods of breaking impasse in negotiation is to change the venue.  Another is to take a break and walk around.  Just the act of moving and changing the scenery can give negotiators a “brain jog” that helps them get past blocks to resolution.

One time I was having trouble conceptualizing a class – I just couldn’t get the organizational flow going right.  I took a break and went for a walk with my camera and looked at things from a different perspective.


After my walk, I wrote my biggest challenge (because there are no “problems” 😉 )on a piece of paper and moved it around the room, looking at it from all angles – and it worked!

My brain needed license to be creative!   By literally looking at the same challenge in a different way, I unlocked my challenge-solving creativity.  There are no limits to how you can use this tool!

Leaf From A Different Perspective


As with all negotiation tools, practice developing your “perspective shifting” and “state changing” abilities when you don’t need to.  Play with these techniques every day so that they become second nature.

Pay attention to the things that change your mood – just being aware of them is powerful.  Notice when you are dwelling on something or “stuck” on a challenge and make a change in your perspective.  Take a break or a walk and then go back to it with an open mind.  You may be surprised at how quickly this process works.

Also, practice looking at things and doing things differently.  Even small changes like walking the dog a different route, sitting in a different place at dinner or brushing your teeth with your non-dominant hand can make big shifts in your flexibility of perception.

Of course, it always helps to have a guide!  Negotiation Ninja coaching can help you unlock your creative “challenge-solving” resources.  Call today and set up a coaching session – learn to master your mind!

Nancy Hand, JD


Reference for study:

Marlone D. Henderson. Mere physical distance and integrative agreements: When more space improves negotiation outcomesJournal of Experimental Social Psychology, 2011; 47 (1): 7 DOI:10.1016/j.jesp.2010.07.011

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