People’s positions change, as do their expectations, when confronted by a bracket or an anchor. A bracket or an anchor identifies the concept wherein one or both negotiating parties communicate boundaries or limits. They are commonly communicated early in the negotiations and become the poles or positions beyond which they say they’ll never move.

An example would be when a party selling a car states that they owe over $12,500 on the vehicle and that they have to get at least that amount for a deal to be struck. Another would be when one states that they’ve “already turned down $650” for the dining room table they’re selling. The inference in both these examples is that a successful purchaser would have to exceed the stated amount or no agreement could be reached. By stating a limit, often referred to as a bracket or anchor, a party sets a limit to their flexibility. Interesting enough, anchors and brackets routinely ignore the true market value of an item.

Buyers can set brackets or anchors too. They tend to share their positions with comments such as, “I only have $10,000 budgeted for a car purchase.” Or “I’m looking at another table that’s quite nice and the seller is only asking $500 for it.”

When communicated early on in the negotiations, brackets or anchors identify the parties’ initial positions and further identify the range between the parties. The car seller has staked out a position at $12,500 while the car buyer is positioned at 10,000. Good negotiators adopt two strategies. First they try to establish or set brackets or anchors for their position. Second, they ignore or challenge brackets or anchors set by their opponent.

I had a cellular phone company contact me in order to secure a site for a cell phone antennae, which they wanted to erect on my property. At the first meeting I asked how much land they needed and what did they pay for that land. Their representative shared quickly that they ‘only needed one acre’ and that they paid ‘up to $450 per month’. Clearly the ‘up to $450’ bracket staked out a position beyond which they didn’t want to move. I later learned that the average monthly rent for a cell antenna was closer to $900 per month. The cell company rep was wise to communicate a bracket and attempt to hold to that figure as long as possible. If and when that position is changed, the other party can feel gratified at what a ‘good deal’ they have achieved.

Setting brackets or anchors, often called ‘sending controlling expectation messages’ is very common and usually effective. Good negotiators recognize them immediately and begin the challenging (negotiating) process. Testing, probing and seeking more information and proposing alternatives accomplish that. Brackets or anchors, initially set by one party, can often be ignored, or at least never confirmed as a logical position. Proceeding past that bracket to other items to be negotiated allows one’s opponent to soften or change from their bracket without losing face. Most times other points being negotiated can influence the moving of a bracket or anchor.

Simply recognize that most negotiators have a ‘hidden agenda’; an objective which is unstated and unshared. Brackets are usually aggressively set but are more posturing than firm. They’re a place to start. Don’t hesitate to challenge them and set some of your own. It’s the way the negotiating game is played.