In most negotiations, it’s wise to give yourself room to make concessions if you have to. Straw issues are demands made specifically for the purpose of trading them away later to win something of greater importance. Straw issues have exchange value, but they are not crucial to the overall deal the negotiator seeks to close. They are demands that can be easily sacrificed.
Of course, the other party can rarely be certain that the straw issue demand is of less importance than others on the table. Like every other demand that a negotiator makes, it creates a degree of difficulty for the other party. It becomes one more impediment that must be resolved before reaching settlement.
When surrendered during the course of negotiations, straw issues provide satisfaction to the other party in two ways. First, they give them something of value, a victory of sorts, to take home to their organization. Second, it provides satisfaction because just getting rid of the straw issue reduces the number of difficulties to agreement by one and therefore serves to bring settlement closer.
History shows that most straw issues quietly fade away during the bargaining. They are traded for more important demands related to job security and wages. When a buyer is dealing with a seller, it is usually wise to ask for things even when you don’t need them. Asking for benefits like ninety days to pay, a higher credit limit, a low minimum order quantity, return privileges, special warranties or tighter specifications than required can be used for trading purposes. At best, you may be lucky enough to win some of these straw demands. If not, the seller will feel he or she has won something when you drop the demands.
From the seller’s viewpoint, it’s well to recognize that smart buyers create straw issues for four reasons: (1) to reduce the seller’s level of expectation, (2) to assure others in their own organization that they are hard bargainers, (3) to provide room to negotiate and (4) to make it easier for the salesperson to explain why a lower price was accepted. When the salesperson tells management that he or she persuaded the buyer to remove some demands, everybody breathes a sigh of relief. It could have been worse.
Experienced salespeople know that buyers do not expect to get all they ask for. They know that with patience and persistence many straw issues will disappear. Some vanish when the buyer and seller talk frankly off the record. Some straw demands are dropped during sweeping trades of unrelated issues. Others disappear when the seller firmly declares that the buyer’s demand is simply not acceptable or had never been granted to anyone before.