Can You Bring Up Too Many Issues When Negotiating?

Topic(s): fairness
Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology
Article: Expanding the Pie or Spoiling the Cake? How the Number of Negotiation Issues Affects Integrative Bargaining
Authors: M. Warsitzka, H. Zhang, B. Beersma, P. A. Freund, R. Trötschel
Reviewed by: Katherine Facteau

When negotiating, some research suggests it is beneficial to bring up as many issues as possible so there are more opportunities to get what you want. However, conflicting research also suggests this becomes too cognitively demanding and may result in poor outcomes. New research (Warsitzka et al., 2023) explores how the number of issues brought up in a negotiation impacts the agreements reached during negotiations. They find that there may actually be an ideal number of issues to bring up when trying to get what you want.


The researchers applied an advanced statistical technique to examine data from many diverse studies about negotiation. Interestingly, they found support for the idea that “more is worse.” In other words, the more issues brought up, the lower the extent that both parties get to a mutually beneficial outcome. Specifically, they found that after bringing up three issues, raising further concerns became detrimental to the likelihood of reaching success.

The researchers suggest that the reason for this “threshold effect” may be that negotiators are able to process up to three issues simultaneously. When people try to process more than three issues, they must divide their focus in a way that is mentally taxing. This ultimately harms negotiation outcomes. Contrary to the researchers’ hypotheses, this finding was not impacted by the characteristics of the negotiator, such as experience, or the preparation time allowed prior to the negotiation.


Notably, it is not recommended to follow the “more is better” strategy when negotiating issues. In line with their finding about a negotiation threshold, practitioners should not try to negotiate more than three issues at a time. This finding held despite levels of experience and the complexity of the negotiation context, suggesting this is a robust practical recommendation.


Warsitzka, M., Zhang, H., Beersma, B., Freund, P. A., & Trötschel, R. (2023). Expanding the pie or spoiling the cake? How the number of negotiation issues affects integrative bargaining. Journal of Applied Psychology. Advance online publication.

Image credit: istockphoto/Alexey Yaremenko