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The Impact of Psychological Factors on Negotiation Interactions

By Charles B. Craver

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When individuals negotiate, various psychological factors positively and negatively influence their interactions. Persons who ignore the impact of these phenomena may not appreciate the degree to which these considerations influence their encounters. On the other hand, negotiators who understand the influence of these factors can use them to their own advantage.

I. Body Posture and Speech Pattern Mirroring

When people negotiate with others, they tend to respond more favorably to persons who exhibit body postures and speech patterns similar to their own. Negotiators who hope to take advantage of this factor can work to mirror the postures and speech patterns of the individuals with whom they are interacting.

When opponents lean back in their chair, these persons assume the same posture. If opponents cross one leg over another, these persons cross the same leg over the other leg to reflect the posture of those people. When adversaries lean forward in their chairs, these negotiators lean forward in a similar manner.

Skilled negotiators can similarly mirror the speech patterns used by opponents. When those persons speak more slowly, they speak more deliberately. When adversaries speak more rapidly, they speed up. Negotiators can also reflect the speech tone of opponents. When those people elevate their voice pitch, they can to the same.

When individuals speak, they usually employ one of three sensory preferences. Some use a visual orientation, and they describe their thoughts visually. For example, they ask if others can picture what they are saying, or they indicate that they can see what someone else is requesting. These persons tend to respond more favorably to negotiators who respond using a similar orientation. It thus helps if others respond to these persons by describing their desires graphically. They might alternatively say that they can see what the other side is concerned about.

Some individuals have an auditory orientation, and they use words to describe auditory perceptions. They might ask opponents to listen to their concerns or indicate that the other side’s proposal has rung a bell with them. They may ask adversaries to voice their opinion about the subject of their discussions. Persons with this orientation react most favorably to others who use a similar frame. For example, someone who hears their concerns, or who suggests that their proposal should create a large bang in the business community.

The third group tends to exhibit a kinesthetic/feeling orientation. These are people who feel or sense things. They might indicate that a proposal smells bad or leaves a bad taste in their mouth. They tend to rely on their gut feelings. To appeal most effectively to individuals with this orientation, negotiators should reflect their kinesthetic/feeling orientation. They might indicate that a new offer feels good to them, or suggest why they are not comfortable with that proposal.

II. Anchoring

Some individuals commence bargaining encounters with modest proposals hoping to generate reciprocal behavior by their opponents that will generate pleasant and cooperative win-win interactions. Opening offers that are overly generous to adversaries are likely to have the opposite effect due to the impact of anchoring. When people receive more generous offers than they anticipated, they question their own preliminary assessments and increase their own aspirations. They begin to think that they will be able to obtain more beneficial results than they initially thought possible, and they move psychologically away from the other side. They thus make opening offers that are more favorable to their own side. It is thus important for parties commencing bargaining encounters to plan opening offers that favor their own side, but which can be logically explained to provide them with credibility.

In my Legal Negotiating class, I give my students identical fact patterns pertaining to a tort claim. I indicate that the students all represent the defendant and ask them two questions. What is the first offer you plan to make in response to the plaintiff’s initial demand? How much do you think you will finally have to pay to resolve this claim? Half of the students are told the plaintiff has demanded $100,000, and half are told the plaintiff has demanded $50,000. The half facing the initial $100,000 demand plan higher opening offers and think they will have to pay more to resolve the claim than the students facing the $50,000 demand.

The Impact of Psychological Factors on Negotiation Interactions, By Charles B. Craver


Copyright © 2011 Charles B. Craver
Copyright ©   2011  The Negotiator Magazine
The Negotiator Magazine  (August, 2011)