Harnessing the Power of Irrationality in Business Negotiations

Harnessing the Power of Irrationality in Business Negotiations


Irrationality is not always a drawback. In business negotiations, understanding and leveraging our buyers’ irrationality can lead to successful outcomes. The key lies in crafting compelling offers that cater to the buyer’s unique needs and desires.


  1. Embracing the Irrational.
  2. Case Study: The Counter-Intuitive Approach.
  3. Understanding the Dynamics.
  4. Leveraging the Power of Relationships.
  5. The Power of Asymmetry.

Humans are often mistakenly considered rational beings. From birth, we undergo training to make sense of our world, developing mental models that prepare us for future challenges. Yet, despite our best efforts, much of our thinking remains firmly rooted in the realm of the irrational. This article will explore the potential advantages of acknowledging and utilizing this irrationality in business negotiations.

Embracing the Irrational

Many of us bristle at the suggestion of irrationality. We prize logical thinking and precision, particularly in the realm of business. But what if this irrationality, often seen as a flaw, could be harnessed for our benefit?

This brings us to the practice of creating business offers. We often apply mathematical precision when crafting these proposals but seldom invest equal time in understanding our buyer’s mindset. Can a pricing model be constructed that factors in the buyer’s irrationality? Could we develop a system for creating such models?

Case Study: The Counter-Intuitive Approach

To explore this concept more concretely, let’s consider a real-world example. In a previous advisory role, I had the opportunity to engage a potential new client.

Typically, this process involves presenting the potential client with a price list and a fixed discount that could increase over time. This approach was standard within the industry, and the face-to-face or over-the-phone negotiations centered on bargaining for the discount percentage. The product’s nature mattered little; whether we sold nails or parachutes, the negotiation process remained the same.

Understanding the Dynamics

I first needed to understand the dynamics involved in developing an effective negotiation strategy. This understanding revolved around a series of tasks:

  1. Learn about the product.
  2. Grasp the current pricing strategy.
  3. Deconstruct the current offer strategy.
  4. Understand the competition’s strategy.
  5. Identify the client’s Job to be done.

Interestingly, you could shortcut this process by starting with the fifth task.

“A Job to be Done is the process a consumer goes through whenever she aims to change her existing life-situation into a preferred one, but cannot because there are constraints that stop her.“, jbtd.info


As the father of the concept, Clayton Christensen wrote:

Jobs are never simply about function—they have powerful social and emotional dimensions.

Understanding these dimensions amid various circumstances, such as product attributes, new technologies, and trends, can provide significant leverage.

Milkshake Marketing Insights

Clayton Christensen, a Harvard professor, applied the ‘Jobs to be Done’ theory to boost a fast-food chain’s milkshake sales. He found that customers were buying milkshakes in the morning as a less messy, convenient breakfast for their commute – the ‘job’ the milkshake was ‘hired’ for. Recognizing this, the fast-food chain optimized the milkshake to be more satiating and marketed it as an on-the-go breakfast, resulting in a significant sales increase. This story highlights the importance of understanding the unique ‘jobs’ products do for consumers beyond their basic features.

Leveraging the Power of Relationships

In my client’s case, I discovered a key element: their clients. This understanding allowed me to identify product strengths that would benefit the end buyer, enhancing our offering.

Not all cases are as straightforward, though. In some instances, the relationship between my client and their clients was essential, but the product’s strengths were not the primary concern. In these cases, the client sought to distinguish their brand and appear more attractive, even sacrificing optimal sales.

Understanding these needs, I designed an offer that satisfied both parties. For us, the value lay in financial gain, while for the client, it was about image enhancement. The outcome was a bespoke product that flaunted their brand name, fulfilling their emotional needs while costing us little.

The Power of Asymmetry

This experience showcases the power of asymmetry in value perception. We could replicate this success by incorporating these insights into our pricing model, consistently capturing value.

In conclusion, acknowledging and leveraging irrationality can open new avenues for value creation in business negotiations. By taking the time to understand our clients beyond the veil of rationality, we can design compelling offers that meet their unique needs and desires.

Key Points:

  • Human irrationality can be harnessed for effective business negotiations.
  • Understanding buyers and their unique needs is crucial for crafting compelling offers.
  • Leveraging asymmetry in value perception can lead to successful business outcomes.