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  • Attia Qureshi

Enthusiasm in a negotiation

When most people think about negotiation, they compare the interaction to playing poker. Maybe you’ve heard some of these phrases: “You want to hold your cards close to your chest so as not to show your hand.” So, understandably so, showing enthusiasm is often seen as a weakness -- but that’s where many get it wrong.


This week in my Power & Negotiation class at MIT Sloan, I led a discussion with my students on the delicate balance between showing excessive enthusiasm versus playing hard to get in a negotiation. One question brought up by students was: “Do I show too much of my hand if I am enthusiastic in a negotiation?” The short answer is, no, showing enthusiasm during a negotiation is a great thing. Just make sure to be strategic about it and use it to your advantage.


Sure, you don’t want to go into a job negotiation saying: “OH MY GOSH, I love your company SO much and will do and accept anything to work here. Please PLEASE just take me.” This is a bad move because you’re giving the employer permission to give you a crappy deal - and we don’t want any crappy deals around here.


Similarly, it’s not a great look to go into the same negotiation playing hard to get by sending this kind of message: “Yeah, this opportunity could be cool, but I’ve got other options so you’ll need to offer me a pretty good deal.” This move will make your counterpart question why you’re even there.


I do want you to go into a negotiation and showcase enthusiasm. In doing so, you’re saying: “I think the people, culture and company are awesome and I’m excited by the opportunity to work with you.” This will make them feel great about having you join the team, and they will want to work harder on your behalf.


The right tone to strike in a negotiation can be pretty well summed up in the age-old dating advice “just be yourself,” or to quote Polonius from Hamlet “to thine own self be true.” If you have dated in the 21st century, you have probably found that it is important not to be the obsessive lover or the haughty beloved, but to build a partnership in which you and your significant other each authentically express your needs and devotion.


This spectrum can also be observed by looking at a few characters from Parks and Recreation, which I have illustrated below. Let’s take a look at a few of these memorable characters, each of whom shows a different level of enthusiasm, to see how things work out for them.

Although Tom Haverford is generally disengaged from his work in the Pawnee Parks and Recreation office, he is always desperate to be liked by his coworkers and regularly takes part in new entrepreneurial schemes. His character consistently jumps into foolish enterprises and makes pretty bad deals, all so he can be included. I don’t want you to do that. In a negotiation, you can still be liked while getting a good deal.


On the flip side, Ann Perkins generally plays hard to get, thus missing out on several opportunities. Her character lacks self confidence but can often be misinterpreted as too self-involved or distant to be a part of the team. This leads to a lower level of enthusiasm, which makes people believe she doesn’t want to take part. You want to be a team player, so don’t do that either.


And then we have our beloved Leslie Knope. She gets a lot accomplished by showing tons of enthusiasm, which helps get others on board with her plans. While her enthusiasm can be a bit much, she knows exactly what she wants and has the unshakeable confidence to pursue her goals. It would be hard to have her level of enthusiasm — certainly don’t — but Leslie is a great example of the power of authentically expressed enthusiasm.


I like Leslie Knope as an example of how showing enthusiasm can do a lot to help you to get what you want. By showcasing enthusiasm, you are offering an olive branch in a negotiation. Enthusiasm really helps build goodwill and makes others want to mimic your behavior as they are excited by your attitude. Because of this, authentic enthusiasm is an excellent tool to use in negotiations, as it can have your counterpart revealing more of their incentives, putting you in a better position to meet their needs.


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