FlashMBA.com: The Evolution of Professional Skills Training

How to Negotiate: Dueling Narratives

Posted by Andrew Hupert on Jan 26, 2017 5:28:06 AM

A New Definition of Negotiation: Dueling Narratives 

Takeaway: Every negotiation is a duel between two competing narratives. You have your story, and he has his.

In your story, you are the hero – trusty and brave. Your treasures are rare and valuable; your requirements reasonable; the benefits immense.

In HIS story, you are a common peasant, your offering is ordinary and he has many other options – all at least as good as yours. If you start haggling over prices before you have won him over to your basic premise, you are fighting from a weak position.

How to Negotiate - Every negotiation is a competition between 2 stories

Haggling over price is a street brawl - Strategic negotiation is a contest between two competing viewpoints. It doesn’t matter whether you are asking for a raise or want to be General Manager of a new JV, you must convince your counterparty to adapt your view of reality. It's a duel between your worldview and his. Whoever can tell the most persuasive story, wins.


Every story has a background, a buildup, some kind of central conflict, and a resolution. After that, there’s a new status quo.

Let’s look at an example.

You’re Mel Millennial, and you’ve been working at Infinity Systems in a sales position for almost 10 months. You learned the job quickly, performed well, and now you want a raise and a better title.

How to Negotiate - Every negotiation is a competition between 2 stories

Here's your initial background story:

“I have brought in 1.5 million dollars of new revenue, opened 6 new major accounts, and have been in the top 15% in every significant ranking. I’ve been at the company for almost a year, and have already hit all my targets. I deserve a 20% increase in compensation – salary and commission rate – and a better title.”

Sounds reasonable – to you. But your division manager, Bob Boomer, may have a completely different narrative.

How to Negotiate - Every negotiation is a competition between 2 stories

“There are 20 people on the team. It’s not the Mel show, it’s the Infinity Systems show. You’ve done your job, yes. That’s what you’re paid for. The reason you’re able to sell is that Infinity has new products & services, a great support team and expensive technology – all of which puts pressure on the bottom line. The company has policies about how and when compensation gets reviewed and adjusted. Your annual review will be in a couple of months, and we can discuss the results after that.”

Mel needs to find a way to persuade Bob that his story is relevant to the company – and to Bob. If he continues with his existing narrative, he’s is in a very weak position.

Bob has given Mel a couple of clues, though. Mel’s position is one of individual ambition – he’s telling a story of HOPE. Bob, however, is revealing his challenges – a team that is too big to manage, established bureaucratic procedures, expenses that he can’t manage, and pressure to prop up the bottom line. It’s a FEAR story. He also made a soft commitment to Mel to discuss his situation in two months – giving our hero plenty of time to prepare.

Mel may not be able to push his boss into concessions right away, but he can spin his existing story in a way that plays to both his hopes AND Bob’s fears.

Here’s Mel’s new narrative:

“Those are good points, and I am looking forward to my annual review. I realize that you are managing big team – and I think I can help out there. You seem to agree that my numbers prove I’ve got the mechanics of sales down, but now I want to go to the next level and develop my management skills. I’m confident that the standard annual review will back me up. When we meet, can we talk about things I can do to take on more responsibility? I would like to talk to you about managing a few key accounts, and helping to train some of the new people we’ll be onboarding. Would it be possible to accelerate the annual review so that you and I can start discussing ways I can do more around here?”

How to Negotiate - Every negotiation is a competition between storiesMel’s new story is sharper, and more customized to his counter-party’s worldview. He’s offering a win-win solution (Mel takes on more of a management role to reduce the pressure on Bob), and changing his primary variable to something that might be easier for Bob to deliver (accelerating the review with HR).

 Mel has also turned his performance numbers into a benchmark (you seem to agree that my numbers prove…) and set a couple of important variables (key accounts, management role, accelerating the formal review process).


Successful negotiators:

  1. Know their own story and engineer it to be more effective and persuasive

  2. Understand the other side’s view of the world.

  3. Make their story more persuasive by setting benchmarks

  4. Set the agenda, control the process, and determine variables

  5. Are careful to develop a negotiating narrative that has a happy ending for both sides. 

Topics: Dueling narratives, Millennial, Flash Points, Strategy, how to negotiate

Written by Andrew Hupert

Something Powerful

Tell The Reader More

The headline and subheader tells us what you're offering, and the form header closes the deal. Over here you can explain why your offer is so great it's worth filling out a form for.


  • Bullets are great
  • For spelling out benefits and
  • Turning visitors into leads.

Subscribe to Email Updates


Professional skills training delivered in a fast, flash-card format.

Online classes, slideshows, videos and articles focusing on soft-skills.

  • Negotiation
  • Communication
  • Leadership
  • Problem-solving

Manage your skills training like you manage your career.

Subscribe to Email Updates

Download eBook:  The Negotiator's Toolkit
How to Negotiate for Millennials - the Negotiator's Toolkit ebook
Sign up for the  Managing Millennials Newsletter from FlashMBA.com 

ChinaSolved: Business Solutions for International Negotiators

3 Negotiating Takeaways from the NK Coal Boat Maneuver

Win-Win with Chinese Characteristics The new US administration seemed to score a big coup in Asia last week, when China blocked a fleet of North Korean cargo ships carrying coal to Chinese markets....Read more

Three Negotiating Issues to Watch at the Xi Trump Meeting

The upcoming Xi – Trump meeting is the first face-to-face sit down between the two leaders.  The US side has been clear about what it wants from China, but it’s not quite as clear what it plans...Read more

The Future of US-China Commercial Relations: Welcome to the Multiconomy

Takeaway – Established Western brands will continue to defend their global leadership positions for a while yet, but Chinese corporates are taking control of growing niches and new...Read more

5 Negotiating Lessons from Sec. of State Tillerson’s Beijing Trip

That treacherous opening Chinese toast. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made his first official visit to China last weekend, and the White House probably sees it as one of the bright spots in a...Read more

The New CEO in Asia

We’ve seen this before. A new CEO with limited China experience introduces himself to the international business community with tough talk and big promises about China and the rest of Asia. Then...Read more

Share FlashMBA Articles


Follow Flash