Know and Use the Rules of Influence
Nearly all negotiators know Robert Cialdini’s six “rules” of influence: reciprocation, commitment and consistency, social proof, liking, authority and scarcity. They are easy to remember because we are all influenced by them every day.
Reciprocation: When your waiter puts a mint on the table or your local charity sends you free mailing labels, both benefit from the power of reciprocity. Not only do we feel uncomfortable unless we reciprocate this generous behavior, we will reward it in kind. Waiters’ tips go up and donations increase – however modestly — when these benefits are bestowed on us. In the negotiation of a dispute, an acknowledgement that you’ve heard and understood your opponent’s position; or that you are sorry he was harmed by the activities you continue to believe were benign, does in fact motivate your adversary to respond in kind – often by revealing otherwise hidden interests or concealed fears that can break impasse.
Authority: I’ve never been a Judge, but I am a “settlement officer” with the United States District Court for the Central District of California. I’ve also tried cases to a jury and have twenty-five years of complex commercial litigation experience. Each one of these credentials gives me a different kind of authority, but all of them make what I say to a litigant considering settlement more persuasive.
The District Court gives me a little lapel pin to wear and I always wear it when I’m doing the federal court’s “settlement officer” work. I have a badge! To my peers, “settlement officer” means nothing other than a volunteer for the Court. To the parties, however, being an “officer” of a federal court sounds impressive; authoritative. Difficult mediations often have dead time in them in which the parties engage in small talk. When clients ask me about the lapel pin, I modestly explain my role as a “settlement officer” for the District Court. The parties invariably treat me with greater deference after this conversation. I know it sounds like a small point, but sometimes all you need is one extra little push to get the parties past impasse.
Liking: I do not believe it’s possible to be a skillful negotiator unless you are likeable. This trait is especially important for a mediator who must garner the trust of a complete stranger with lightening speed. You do not have to possess rock star likeability to accomplish this. All you need do is to find something to like about the others. We all want approval and we all wish to be admired and desired. The good news is that all of us have some trait or characteristic that is desirable and admirable. If you look for those traits in another and casually remark on them, the cycle of liking and being liked is commenced.
The cycle is speeded if you couple your liking with something similarly likeable in yourself. “You’re a musician! I’ve always wished I’d taken music classes. My husband (or sister, or aunt, or best friend) is a pianist with a small chamber group locally.” Now you’re not only more likable, you’re like “one of us” and you get the benefit of relatedness, an easier “fit” and an automatic feeling of trust and confidence. See Conspiracy Theories and Granfalloons for the full story on the way “liking” and affiliation work. If you’re not serving as a neutral but simply a negotiator, you can couple this “liking” and musical affiliation with reciprocity: “do let me give you my sister’s chamber music schedule; during the summer they give free concerts in the park.” A trifecta of influencers.
Social Proof : “Yes, mom, if I see my friends jumping off a cliff I’m pretty inclined to do so as well.” Our tendency to “monkey see, monkey do” may begin in Middle or High School, but it does not end there. You don’t have to live in Los Angeles to feel the effect of this tendency to do what others do – you only need to be in a traffic jam caused by “rubber-necking” once to remember that we’re primates. This is part of the value of market valuations and jury verdict reports. They not only provide “authority” for your position on price, but they carry the weight of other people’s valuation. This is social proof.
Scarcity: the effect of scarcity on value is something we see every day in store windows and newspaper ads: “limited offer” and “one time only sale” are recycled over and over again by the same stores for the same items and yet we’re moved to feel an urgency that brings us into the store and makes us purchase an item we don’t need and didn’t desire. Litigators often use the principle of scarcity to “sell” the resolution of litigation. “After we commence discovery, this offer will no longer be on the table.” Or. “We’ll be picking a jury in thirty days. Don’t expect to see a demand this low ever again if we don’t settle by day’s end. Scarcity.
Commitment and Consistency: Many neutrals like to begin a mediation in joint session for the purpose of obtaining the parties’ commitment to settling the case today if reasonable terms are offered. It’s almost impossible to resist signing on to this principle and it’s common for people to feel bound by it even if circumstances change. At some point during the negotiation, the parties will begin to feel committed to the resolution of the litigation. They can picture themselves free of its many burdens or receiving money rather than spending it on their attorneys. Seeking and making commitments holds our feet to the fire of our intention. Ask anyone who’s ever made public her decision to lose weight or exercise at least three days a week. If we act inconsistently with the promise we’ve made to friends, family or community, we fear a loss of “face.”
If you apply the five principles subject of this series to your negotiations, you will get the better part of the bargain on nearly every occasion. Remember – simply asking diagnostic questions will make you a better negotiator than all but seven percent of your bargaining partners. Add to this the ability to deftly frame the negotiation favorably to you; to anchor the bargaining range to your liking and to be influential in your dealings and I guarantee you success in most of your business affairs.
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