What’s Pie Got To Do With It? Ace Your Next Negotiation With Pie In Mind

A classic negotiation tool is to overcome the “myth of the fixed pie.”  Generally speaking, if I eat a piece of pie, that’s one fewer piece you can have. Instead, we want to make a bigger pie. 

Consider this example. Sadie is a scientist and Jolon is a chef, both of whom are traveling to a farm to buy rare plants. There are a finite number of plants, and each of them hopes to purchase all the plants that are available. 

Through open conversation and asking questions, they realize that Chef Jolon only needs the plant’s leaves, which are used for food coloring, and Sadie the scientist wants to study a chemical compound found in the plant’s roots for a vaccine she’s developing. 

Initially, both Jolon and Sadie’s positions are, “I want to buy all of the plants that are available,” but Sadie’s underlying interest is to make vaccines, for which she needs the plant root, and Jolon’s interest is to make brilliantly colored designer macaroons using the plant leaves.

Notice that expanding the pie often means increasing the number of variables being considered or levers you can adjust. Whereas initially Jolon and Sadie’s negotiation focused on the finite number of plants available for purchase, the negotiation changed quite quickly when they expanded the items being discussed to include the plant roots and the plant leaves.

Expanding the pie in this way brings you beyond your counterpart’s position so you can get to the heart of what their motivations or interests are. Both Jolon and Sadie could both leave the farm with the maximum amount of what they’re looking for. Everyone wins!

Conference Pie

A conference planner recently asked me to give a talk on negotiation, but she told me right away that they didn’t have the budget to pay my full speaker fee. After telling me about the conference and getting me excited about the audience, she said, “Are there non-monetary benefits that we can provide you? We want to make sure this is as beneficial to you as possible.” 

The question immediately changed the conversation from a single-issue negotiation, focused on money, to one focused on expanding the pie. We were no longer stuck in our positions, where I wanted her to pay my full speaker fee and she wasn’t able to pay it. We were sitting on the same side of the table, creatively solving a problem together. 

With any client hiring me to speak, my primary interests center on being paid fairly, working with audiences that energize me, and securing future gigs. Her interests were to stay within budget, build relationships with quality local speakers, and host a phenomenal event.

After a few minutes of brainstorming, I agreed to give the talk, and she agreed to:

  • Record the speech
  • Pay me to speak at another event in the future at my full rate
  • Promote my content on social media 
  • Encourage attendees to purchase my negotiation e-courses
  • Provide a testimonial after the event 
  • Refer other clients to me

While in this case, my client initiated the pie expanding, either party can start that conversation and help reach a creative, mutually beneficial agreement. You’ll get bonus points if you get the ball rolling in that direction, since you’ll demonstrate empathy and concern for your counterpart.