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Written by Marijn Overvest | Reviewed by Sjoerd Goedhart | Fact Checked by Ruud Emonds | Our editorial policy

Carrots And Sticks — The Ultimate Guide

Key takeaways

  • This strategy drives an individual’s negotiation skills, in analysis and decision-making.
  • Successful negotiations require a focus on important variables, creative trade-offs, and finding win-win opportunities.
  • This tactic adds value to gathering crucial information while finding the best possible outcome.

When someone says carrots and sticks, it somehow reminds you of work. That’s because it is a very popular saying about rewards and punishment. You’d be surprised to know that it also works for negotiations too.

For this article, we are going to take a look at how carrots and sticks can be used in negotiations. The idea between rewards and punishment is often applied towards people pushing for negotiations. We are going to learn all about it and how to apply the same concept in terms of negotiations.

After reading this article, you should have a clear grasp of how to use carrots and sticks to improve your negotiation results.

Carrots and Sticks – What Exactly is It?

In the world of employment and work management, the term ‘carrots and sticks’ means a motivational approach that involves offering a reward, hence the term “carrot” for those who work really well while the opposite side gets the “stick” or a punishment for not doing their utmost performance. To make the term more simple, the carrots and sticks system is a form of feedback system set for employees.

The term is not just used in employment and work management. The term is also used in politics and negotiations. In fact, negotiators often use the carrots and sticks system as a way to get the other party to get along with their demands. 

As an experienced negotiator, the more tools you can use to get your desired results during a negotiation tooling, then the better, correct? With that being the case, it’s time to examine what are the best carrots and sticks examples that one can use to gain an advantage during negotiations.

A Guide for Carrots and Sticks

With the template below, you can fill your own carrots and sticks per supplier for your upcoming negotiation. 

By taking down the trade-offs you can make with your supplier, you will be able to know the perspective of the other party. Thus, you can induce them to agree to a win-win deal where you both get the things you want. 


The Best Carrots and Sticks Examples to Use in Negotiations

The Incentives and Penalties System

In the world of procurement, the procurement process often talks about how to source and negotiate with suppliers regarding the best amount and quality of materials versus the price the organization is willing to pay for those materials. We’ve talked about that in our procurement process article

For the negotiator, agreeing to pay for the high-quality material comes as the “carrot” while trying to come off cheap but getting inferior quality materials in the process becomes the “stick”. This example is aimed towards procurement teams that are looking to procure high-quality materials but at the cost of pricing.

The incentives and penalties system is a way of rewarding and punishing companies that choose to either follow the right path in acquiring materials or want to go through the shortcut through dubious means.

My Experience on Carrots and Sticks

As an experienced negotiator, the more tools you can use to get your desired results during a negotiation, the better. Right? It’s time to examine what are the best carrots and sticks examples that you can use to gain an advantage during negotiations.

The rewards that come from using the carrot and the stick method are a successful win-win situation. I will share some ideas and best practices to use when implementing this strategy. 

We don’t hear the phrase “carrot and the stick” as much as I used to. Gives and takes are two words for the same concept. Thinking of the important variables for you and your negotiation opponent communicates that we recognize the perspective of our opponent. Think about needs, aspirations, concerns, and pressure points: often the key to a win-win result.

Setting aside our self-interest priorities for a moment, just to consider how our counterpart might feel, is a game-changer.  When it comes to employing the power of rewards, creativity and ‘out-of-the-box thinking are typically required. Looking at a negotiation from your opponent’s perspective can spawn proposals that might induce them to agree to a win-win deal.

When conducting a supplier negotiation strategy myself in my time as Procurement Manager, I focused more on carrots than on sticks. As a person, I truly believe that better negotiation results come from a positive approach instead of a negative one. I spent hours calling, researching, and asking questions to make sure I understood all possible wants and needs that my suppliers could have before entering the negotiation. When determined, think of value in dollars to ask back when presenting the ‘carrot’ to the supplier. In cases where no agreement was reached because of any discussion about the value of the ‘carrot’, I turned the carrot into a stick by not giving the supplier what they wanted.

I only used sticks when negotiations didn’t go my way at all: examples of this were moving business to other suppliers, delisting of assortment, shorter contract periods, and so on, and so on.

Tips on Using Carrots and Sticks

The team of Procurement Tactics helps you out with some concrete tips on how to use the Carrot and Stick principle towards suppliers yourself: 

  • I’ll consider buying a larger quantity if you can give me a 10% discount. ‘Here the reward is a higher volume’.
  • If you can do it for that price, I’ll recommend you to my friends and even write a testimonial letter for your promotional use. ‘Here the reward is more future business.’
  • I’d consider purchasing some of your other products if you can help me with this order. ‘Here the reward is a bigger deal’.
  • I can reduce my price on this order if you’ll pick this up at our warehouse by Friday. ‘Here the reward is a price discount’.

You are likely more creative than me when it comes to identifying rewards in your own situation. Coming up with incentives becomes easier when you concentrate your efforts and thoughts in that direction. What are the possibilities in your negotiating?  What inexpensive thing could you give up as a reward that would convert your opponent’s hesitancy into action? Good negotiators recognize trade-off possibilities when offering incentives or rewards.

You can use this template to help you with your trade-offs:


Carrots and sticks are not usually heard as it is the same as give and take. Carrot equates to give and stick with take. Additionally, you have to ensure that you have an endless list of gives and takes. Not doing so will not give you the best result in a negotiation. 

Thus, you should focus more on what is the most important variable with the negotiating party before you go to war.

Also, make a long list of the important variables for both you and the negotiating party. The more variables on your list, the better. Try ranking them before you start the negotiation. You must take note that the best deals are created when you exchange the variables with a low value to you and a high for the other party instead of the ones with a high value to you and a low for your counterpart.

Frequentlyasked questions

What is the definition of carrots and sticks?

It is characterized by the use of both reward and punishment to induce cooperation in an organization.

What is another term for carrots and sticks?

This approach is also often called give and take.

What is the incentives and penalties system?

It is a way of rewarding and punishing someone that chooses to either follow the right path in acquiring materials or they want to go through the shortcut through dubious means.


About the author

My name is Marijn Overvest, I’m the founder of Procurement Tactics. I have a deep passion for procurement, and I’ve upskilled over 200 procurement teams from all over the world. When I’m not working, I love running and cycling.

Marijn Overvest Procurement Tactics