The Shadow Negotiation: Summary & Review

the shadow negotiation book cover

In The Shadow Negotiation author Deborah Kolb examines negotiation at the level that rarely gets spoken about but that can either make or break the deal: personal feelings and biases, nonverbal communication, and frames.
The Shadow Negotiation teaches women how to negotiate effectively by going for both personal advocacy and pie-enlarging relationships.

Bullet Summary

  • In all negotiations there are hidden and unspoken frames, biases, and personal beliefs that will impact the negotiation: they’re part of the shadow negotiation
  • If you don’t take those unspoken assumptions and frames to the surface, they might undermine your negotiation
  • To do well in negotiations, you need to be good both at advocating for yourself (pushing) and connecting
  • For short-term, one-off deals, advocacy/pushing is more important
  • For long-term relationships, you are better off with more connection
  • For long-term relationships in which you don’t know each other well, use “mutual inquiry”


About the Author: Deborah Kolb is an American researcher, author, and teacher. She received her Ph.D. from the Sloan School of Management, MIT.  Kolb serves as a women’s-leadership consultant to, among others, Google, Fidelity, and the White House.
She is the co-director of the Negotiations in the Workplace Project at Harvard and pens her own blog at

What’s the Shadow Negotiation

Says Deborah Kolb:

The shadow negotiation is where hidden agendas and masked assumptions play out. Often it is defined by a whole array of attitudes of which the participants are only dimly aware.

It’s important to know and understand the shadow negotiation because those hidden agendas impact the negotiation as much as the explicit issues and differences do.

To negotiate effectively, you must recognize the shadow negotiation and bring those misguided assumptions to the surface.

 For example, when women negotiate at work, the assumption is often that work was “her choice”, and that she will always put family before work. Hence, she shouldn’t be negotiating hard.
A woman who doesn’t address those issues will face an uphill battle.

But the shadow negotiation also includes nonverbals, body language, power dynamics, and interpersonal relationships, all of which influence the negotiation but that are rarely talked about.
Says Deborah:

Even though they seldom address the subject directly, they decide between them whose interests and needs command at tention, whose opinions matter, and how cooperative they are going to be in reaching an agreement.

Before “Creative” Negotiation and “Making the Pie Larger”, You Need to Show Some Strength

Strength matter.

If your negotiation partner thinks you’re a pushover, or that you will make all the concessions, no amount of creative problem solving will help you reach a good outcome. 

Says the author:

The people you negotiate with need to know that they cannot push you around before you can convince them to take you and your interests seriously.

Frames in Negotiation: Strategic Turns

Deborah Kolp calls “turns” what in the end are “frames”.

If the other party is trying to make you the issue of the negotiation, negotiating becomes impossible (and it’s often a negotiation power move to manipulate you).
You cannot defend when someone accuses you, or you continue to operate within their frame of choice, which is helping them and damaging you.

Some framing techniques the author recommends:

  • Interrupt the move: by changing the pace you break the momentum and the frame might never have the chance to establish itself. 
  • Correct the move: offer an alternative explanation to whatever they are accusing you of. Often, you will go from a negative explanation of your motives and behavior, to a positive one (for example: “you don’t have enough appetite for risks”, “my appetite for risk hinges on having good information, which is what I am asking you to provide me with”
  • Divert the move: go from personal, back to the problem
  • Name the move: this is the equivalent of “going meta”, such as you explain what they are trying to do

The author also presents examples for each, and one of them was particularly impressive.
Charlene won the promotion to committee chair over Ellen. One their first meeting, Ellen was late. And when she arrived, she had printed a memo that she handed out to everyone. Ellen was acting as if she were the chair. Instead of pushing back right away and look territorial, Charlene looked at the memo and said “what a lot of work”.
Then asked people if they wanted a refill of coffee before restarting. Once the meeting restarted, Charlene said:

Charlene (boss): We have not made so much progress as Ellen did independently.
We have yet to identify the approach we want to take, let alone the priorities.
Perhaps, Charlene suggested, it would be better to consider Ellen’s memo when ideas had been discussed a bit more.
So, let’s start with the ideas now…

Without the interruption, the committee would have focused 100% on Ellen’s memo. 
But with the break, she prevented Ellen’s memo to dominate the discussion, and thwarted Ellen’s attempt to act as the leader.

Also read:

Advocacy, Connection, And Striking the Right Balance

The author distinguishes between two different approaches:

  • Advocacy: pushing for what you need. When you’re dealing with one-ff negotiation and single items, like selling/buying cars and houses, it will be more about advocacy
  • Connection: the relationship side of the negotiation. You will use it more for repeated interaction and for complex negotiations. When negotiation is defined as a search for joint gains, connective skills become more important. 

Advocacy: You Need to Be Able to Push

I totally agree with Deborah Kolp:

Pushing has a taint associated with it.
But being able to push effectively is an important skill for all negotiators. Despite whatever collaborative inclination we may have, some deals, by their very nature, require pushing, and some people drive us to push simply to protect our interests.

Some good advice for women (but also for men):

  • Believe it’s possible to negotiate, seek opportunities: To even think about negotiation, you first have to realize it’s possible. Otherwise, opportunities for negotiation go wasted
  • Look at your strengths and the value you bring to the table: too many women focus only on their weaknesses
  • Let your negotiating partner work to whittle you down, don’t do it yourself: people second-guess themselves before going into the negotiation and start decreasing their own demands before their negotiation partner does it for them
  • Think how to make your requests more palatable, rather than scrapping them

On using threats effectively:

  • If you use a threat, it must be real, and you must be prepared to follow through
  • Better than a stand-alone threat, couple it with a conciliatory move: for example, you can say what you will be forced to do if your fair demands are not met
  • Better than threats, talk about other options you have: letting the other party know you have other options is equally effective, and carry fewer risks of retaliation and/or of ruining the relationship

Also read:

Pushing, Packaging, and… The Third Way

The author defines two typical negotiations we engage in:

  1. Pushing: this is advocacy only, and it’s used in competitive negotiation with a win-lose frame
  2. Packaging: you seek to make the pie larger. Rather than push for what you want, you try to discover the different interests in play, and make a trade based on those differences to make a “package deal”.

And she adds a third way:

  • Mutual inquiry: builds explicitly on the open relationships and trust forged in the shadow negotiation. Bargainers may re-evaluate what they want, and redefine the problem itself

Says the author about mutual inquiry:

You work together to learn more about each other’s experience, and agreements emerge not from floating attractive options but from this exploration.
In other words, new ideas don’t come from brainstorming, as in problem solving, but from listening, learning, and creating together.

Reframing From Slacker to Too Busy: An Example

One of the things I liked most of “The Shadow Negotiation” are the examples.

Caroline, for example, was getting stretched thin and had no more capacity to add one more project.
When her boss approached her and asked her to take over one more project, the risk was that she could be seen as a slacker by her boss if she said “no”.
Instead, she showed her boss all the projects she was working on, with their due dates, and she asked him what he would prefer to delay. Instead of saying “no”, she showed she was working on a lot of projects and bringing a lot of value, which turned her “no” into a smart self-promotion opportunity.
And as a result, her manager hired an assistant for Caroline.

More Wisdom

Some more nuggets of wisdom:

  • When there is a big power difference, appreciative gestures are not to connect, but to make up for the difference: when there are bigger power imbalances, overtures, kindness, or going the extra mile, are not tools to connect, but tools of advocacy to make up for that difference
  • Relationships are indispensable for collaborative negotiation: the other party must feel comfortable with you before he or she begins to accept that your commitment to a mutual solution is genuine.

Real-Life Applications

Some good ideas for your negotiations:

  • Time your negotiations when you’re most needed: try to negotiate when the company needs you the most. And when you’re literally more in demand. One woman in the examples set up the negotiation meeting during the hour she was needed the most, with people physically knocking on the door looking for her
  • Use intermediaries to positively prime the other party: if you can send someone higher up, or someone the other party is friends with to start influencing your target 
  • Only share sensitive information after some trust has been built: the example in the book is from a negotiation with the union in which a hotel manager shares the financial of the hotel -something that had never been done before-

But, says the author:

The timing of this sharing is significant.
Had Shannon furnished the financial information earlier, the union leadership would probably not have believed they were getting the whole story, and they would have been suspicious about the numbers they were given.
Shannon, on the other hand, would have risked having that information used against her to extract concessions.
Trust on both sides of the table was a precondition for her candor.

So very true.
Only make your biggest overture after some trust and connection have been established, or you give away your biggest weapon too early, and it will not have nearly as much leverage.


On negotiation as not an art, but something anyone can learn and get better at:

It is not surprising that along the way we elevate negotiation to an “art form” practiced by the innately talented. A real estate developer with the instincts of a street fighter attaches the article “the” to his first name and labels what he does The Art of the Deal.
There is nothing magical or mystical about negotiation. People get better at it with practice.

Watch our what women get praised for, it might as well harm you:

As one commentator put it, an emphasis on women’s special qualities of caring and nurturing amounts to a “setup to be shafted.”

On people’s tendency to “negotiate against themselves”:

When we worry about whether our demands will be hard to swallow, rather than trying to make them more palatable, we handicap ourselves from the start in the shadow negotiation.

On connections as the antidote towards adversarial negotiations:

Many negotiations start out with opposing sides squared off. When you connect with the other person, you alter this dynamic.

On mixing both advocacy and connection:

Advocacy and connection go hand in hand.
If effective advocacy enables you to claim a place at the table and garners credibility for you and your demands, the relational skills of connection define the engagement that takes place.


  • Could have been briefer

One of the reviewers on Amazon gave this book zero stars writing that it was “too wordy for the average Jane”.
To which I replied that with that attitude, Jane will certainly remain average.

  • One passage felt a bit random

This passage:

Women, through their capacity to mother and from their subordinate status at work, have developed not just coping mechanisms but real strengths.

I didn’t get how exactly is that strength “developed” through the subordinate status at work.
But it’s just a minor sentence on a book that is otherwise well-balanced, rational, and that speaks a lot of sense.


  • Lots of examples

One of the greatest plusses of “The Shadow Negotiation” is that it’s full of examples.
That makes it both a more interesting read, and a more effective book to help people learn the concepts.

  • Mixing power with warmth

Deborah Kolb’s advice for negotiations is to mix advocacy (assertively and smartly pushing for one’s own needs) and connection (caring and human empathy).

That is the same approach I advocate on this website when I talk about mixing power with warmth
Also see: the basic strategies of power.


“The Shadow Negotiation” is a wonderful book to learn more about negotiation.

Deborah Kolb is a sharp mind that sees and understands frames, social dynamics, as well as deeper power dynamics.
Albeit originally marketed at women and for women, I find that it’s equally useful to both genders.

Most of all, I liked that it contains a lot of examples, which also makes it a good text for beginners.

Check the:

Or: get the book on Amazon

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