Big Story

Description: Paint a very positive picture about how well a new partner is going to do as a direct result of this deal. (Some students have remarked about how appropriate the initials of this tactic are.)

A Big Story is the typical rosy “big picture” tale that negotiators use to frame their negotiating position. The GOBLINS Guide defines negotiation as a “duel between two competing narratives” – and Big Story is the plot to your tale (or his). A Big Story usually lacks details and takes such an optimistic view that it borders on the unreasonable. It undermines skeptics and justifies the most ambitious projections of a counter-party. You are telling people what they want to hear.

Cross-cultural negotiators may remember some variation of the famous Big Story line, “if every person in China bought a bottle of Coca Cola, the GNP of the United States would double overnight”. It makes no sense on several counts, but it was such a positive line that it tended to reframe whole conversations and justify some pretty flimsy proposals.

Salesmen and potential partners who seek a relationship favor techniques like Big Story. It works best with CEO types with a bias towards action — and with those who are already disposed to do this transaction. It is least successful with detail-oriented transaction-focused managers like purchasers or accountants.

While you shouldn’t make this your only tactic, every good negotiator should be able to spin a bit of tale. Storytelling has become a very buzzy topic in the business media lately, so this is becoming even more common.

Intent: Big Story is an attempt to control the agenda, and put unpleasant details like price and quality on the BACK BURNER. Big Story works on two levels. First, it justifies the most optimistic projections of your counter-party without nailing down specific promises. Second, to attack the Big Story is to appear negative, unimaginative, or skeptical about the basic business being discussed. Team negotiators have to be particularly careful that their agendas aren’t hijacked as a result of a Big Story.

Style: Competitive or Collaborative.

Counter: You don’t really have to counter this at every turn, but if you feel the “nonsense level” is getting too high it is fairly easy to deflect or redirect the Big Story. Simply ask for details, or propose contingent agreements. If your counter-party is promising to grow your sales by 50%, you can tie his compensation to success levels or pay a percentage commission instead of a flat fee. When confronted with the Big Story tactic in an industry or market you don’t know well, use it as a jumping off point to get him to start educating you about his part of the business. At the very least, you can use his promises as a benchmark when you start shopping around for more suitable counter-parties.