In the May 2008 issue of the Harvard Negotiation Newsletter (Vol. 11, No. 5), the authors discuss how to influence your adversary so that a resolution is reached. In the lead article, “Will Your Proposals Hit The Mark,” five strategies are offered to support the thesis that “our judgment and decisions are strongly affected by the amount of information we receive and the way in which it’s framed.” (Id.)
The first strategy is not to overwhelm the other side with too many alternatives. While it is wise to offer a few alternatives, offering too many will, in effect, paralyze or overwhelm the other side into not making any decision at all.
The second strategy (which may seem inconsistent to the first) is to make several offers. However, the offers should not be completely different or discrete from one another but rather should be equivalents of each other. The example given is the offering of a software package either for $1 million with payments in 30 days or the same package for $1.5 million with payment in 120 days or an enhanced package for $1.35 million with payment due in 30 days.
The third strategy is to “be willing to be rejected”: “. . . rejection can sometimes be the most effective way to get to “yes” ”. (Id.) The authors suggest that a party should initially ask for more than she realistically expects. The response will be a rejection. The party’s next demand/offer will thus seem “more reasonable” or “more appealing” after the first one. In the field of negotiation, such a strategy is called “contrast effect.” As an example, the authors point to real estate agents who initially take prospective buyers to overpriced, unappealing homes so that when the buyers are then shown “reasonably” priced or “appealing” homes, they will find them attractive and make an offer.
The fourth strategy is based on the notion that parties tend to accept the status quo rather than making a change. One example would be the e-mails we receive which require us to take some form of action to unscribe. If we wish to continue to receive them, we need not do a thing, i.e., maintain the status quo. The vivid example given by the authors involves organ donation. In those countries that use presumed consent (the donor must affirmatively say “no”), the donation rate is close to 100%. In the United States, where one must affirmatively consent (“no” is the norm), the donation rate is about 28%. Consequently, the way an offer is framed will greatly affect the other’s party’s decision – or lack of decision – to accept or reject it.
The final strategy is to “use social proof.” Typically, when a party is uncertain about what to do, she looks for examples of how others behave in similar situations, i.e. “social proof.” If we believe that a given proposal is the “right” way to behave, we tend to agree with it. By using “social proof,” “we tend to make quicker, more efficient decisions. . . .” (Id.) “Popularity makes just about anything seem more appealing.” (Id.)
Turning to mediation, these strategies will prove useful. I have definitely seen the second and third strategies employed over and over again. . . with success. I have also seen that quite often, the easier one party makes it for the other party to agree (i.e. the less work the second party must do), the more likely the parties will reach a settlement. That is, I have seen the status quo strategy at work and succeed. And, most people do look for validation. . . or social proof. In the same way that a party will reject a term or an offer because it has “never been done that way before,” she will accept a term or an offer precisely because “that is the way it is done.” Social proof provides a very strong impetus to reaching a resolution.
So. . . the next time you find yourself in a negotiation or mediation, think about how you can influence the outcome to your liking!
. . . Just something to think about.