Just how crazy do you start off when negotiating? In a scene from Castle – a tv series – the famous writer Richard Castle finds himself in a hostage situation negotiation. His initial offer – to trade places for a mother and a kid – is accepted by the criminal with no hesitation.
“Castle, what the hell were you thinking?” asks the police officer. “I have no idea, honestly I didn’t think she would take the deal …”
This is a perfect example of miscalculating the Zone of Possible Agreement (ZOPA).
The Zone of Possible Agreement is the space between the “worst case offer” each party is willing to accept. Often the ZOPA is much bigger than we initially believe it to be. The writer in our scene thinks trading him for two other hostages is an outrageous offer the criminal would never agree to, when in fact, to the criminal it seems like a beautiful offer.
A successful negotiation primarily depends on accurately estimating the zone of possible agreement and the best negotiation analysts focus on just that (Sebenius, 1992). When analysing a negotiation, it is not only about estimating the ZOPA at one given time, but observing its change over the whole course of negotiation. Such overview gives you a good idea of who is a more successful negotiator.
The perception of our “worst accepted scenario outcome” is not set in stone and a successful negotiator may use this fact to slowly shift the ZOPA in his favour, turning outcomes that were completely off the table into possible solutions.
So if you are ever trapped in a hostage negotiation, how many hostages are you worth? Is there really a borderline number? Chances are you are worth many more than you initially think you are.
Tomas Engelthaler – Blog #5
Sebenius, J. K. (1992). Negotiation analysis: A characterization and review. Management Science, 38(1), 18-38.