I'm looking for a word or a phrase to describe a particular aspect of negotiations. This concept is not unique to negotiations, but negotiations seem to provide the clearest example. The concept is this: The more you ask for, the less likely you are to succeed. There is an inverse relationship between the probability of you getting a good outcome, and how high you set your definition of "good outcome."

If we imagine a simple scenario in which an employee and a boss are negotiating a salary between 0 and 10, if the employee asks for 9 she immediately loses goodwill, as well as loses the respect of the boss. It is very unlikely that she will receive 9. But if the employee asks for 6 (a more 'reasonable' number) her chance of receiving 6 is much higher.

  • Good question. A term, unrelated, to describe treacherous, difficult negotiations is Brittle which can also be used to describe the relationship existing before and during.
    – Elliot
    May 28 '20 at 3:12
  • This seems pretty much like a duplicate: english.stackexchange.com/q/478616/191178
    – Laurel
    May 28 '20 at 5:25
  • Diminishing returns? May 28 '20 at 11:28
  • I disagree that this question is a duplicate. The referenced dupe is about excessive ambition, desire, and the attendant consequences. The question as framed here is focused on the interpersonal dynamics of a negotiation. The dupe lacks the focal "dialectical tension" at the core of this question.
    – lumbrjak
    May 28 '20 at 17:00


From M-W: to defeat or thwart (oneself) by seeking to do or gain too much

Example sentence: one promoter, overreaching himself, demanded an exorbitant price — American Guide Series: Pennsylvania.

While this term works, it requires a bit of context to capture the full nuance of the scenario as you have described it. Here, an overreach results from the expectations of both parties. The asker may fully merit a high ask, but tempering one's own ambitions (at least initially), is a form of respect shown to the other party. It is also fully possible to commit an overreach because one is simply asking for more than their skillset is valued.

Stepping back to describe the more general scene, I would reach for a phrase something like "striking that delicate balance between asking for what I deserve, and the fear of overreaching..."

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