In a previous article, “Getting the Deal Done: Cognitive Science in Negotiation,” I examined how strategic use of loss aversion and disaggregation of gains & aggregation of losses can bring persuasive punch to a negotiation. Can taking a page from a FBI hostage negotiator and getting someone to say “no” actually facilitate completion of a deal? What role does psychological reactance play in getting a deal done? This article provides more tips based upon expert advice and cognitive science to further elevate your negotiation game.
Utilize the Power of “No”
Chris Voss is a former FBI agent who was the bureau’s lead international kidnapping negotiator. Voss mastered the art of negotiating by engaging with terrorists, kidnappers, and other hardened criminals. According to Voss, “no” can be powerful when attempting to influence or persuade, because it can foster collaboration in the sense that “shared ideas are the ones that get done.”
Takeaway: Empower your negotiation partner and build trust and rapport by using “no” questions. The technique is simple – reframe “yes” questions into “no” questions. “Do you agree with this?” becomes “Do you disagree?” “Is this a good idea?” is rephrased as “Is it a ridiculous idea?” and “Are you for this idea?” to “Are you against this idea?” According to Voss, when we say “no,” we feel safe and protected, as if we haven’t made a commitment at all. This in turn, causes us to provide more information because with “no,” we don’t feel reservations about sharing what’s missing, and problems that still need resolution to reach an accord and get a deal done. In a negotiation, you can utilize the technique as an information gathering device to refine your approach and solve outstanding issues, which might not have been shared so openly otherwise. Then, once your counterpart is ready to do the deal, the power of “no” becomes further realized in that the commitment carries much more weight because it’s based upon a more solid foundation, the resolution of issues self-raised by your counterpart.
Avoid Psychological Reactance by Restoring Freedom
Our instantaneous and hard-wired reaction to being told what to do, think, or how to act, is termed “reactance.” When our freedom is restricted in this manner, we can react adversely and become motivated to restore our freedom. Research has documented the effects of reactance with mock jurors presented with evidence later ruled inadmissible. When jurors are asked to disregard the evidence, conviction rates are higher when the “inadmissible” ruling is coupled with explanation by the judge than when it goes unexplained. The researchers theorized that jurors reacted harshly to being told what to think to the extent that they disregarded the judge’s instructions and constructively admitted the evidence in their own minds.
How do we combat this? The research says by restoring a sense of free will. Behavioral psychologist Dr. Nicholas Guéguen ran an experiment aimed at uncovering how to influence others. The experiment involved approaching people and asking them to donate to a children’s hospital. When asked directly, 25% complied. However, simply including “You will probably refuse” before asking for the donation resulted in a compliance increase to 39%, while also increasing the amount of the donation. Why does this happen? According to Dr. Guéguen, the perceived increased freedom to act induces compliance. “When people are informed that they are probably going to refuse…this could lead them to perceive that their freedom to decide whether they will accept or not is threatened. Thus, in order to restore their perceived freedom to decide what they want to do, participants are led to take the opposite direction and to accept the request, thus showing that they are in control of their decision.”
Takeaway: The notion that “providing an out” increases compliance with a target request by restoring a sense of free will has been demonstrated across multiple psychological studies. The actual phrases used are not as important as simply offering the freedom to comply and empowering the subject as in charge of the decision. During your next negotiation, integration of “This probably isn’t for you, but” or “You can walk away at any time” can prove to be powerfully persuasive.
In high stakes negotiations, moving the needle even a little in your favor can result in a large gain. And, when utilizing multiple tactics backed by cognitive science research and experts in conjunction with one another, you can magnify the gains realized to ultimately get the deal done.
Bariso, J. (2020, May 30). An Ex-FBI Negotiator Used 2 Simple Questions to Sell to ‘Shark Tank’ Investor Robert Herjavec. Retrieved August 15, 2020, from https://www.inc.com/justin-bariso/chris-voss-robert-herjavec-fbi-negotiation-tips.html
Guéguen, N. (2016). “You will probably refuse, but…”: When activating reactance in a single sentence increases compliance with a request. Polish Psychological Bulletin, 47(2), 170-173.
Pickel, K. L. (1995). Inducing jurors to disregard inadmissible evidence: A legal explanation does not help. Law and Human Behavior, 19, 407–424.
Smerek, R. (2017, Dec. 21). Don’t Tread on Me! Psychological Reactance as Omnipresent. Retrieved August 16, 2020, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/learning-work/201712/don-t-tread-me-psychological-reactance-omnipresent
Wolf, S., & Montgomery, D. A. (1977). Effects of inadmissible evidence and level of judicial admonishment to disregard on the judgments of mock jurors. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 7, 205–219.
Amit Patel, J.D., MA
Amit Patel is a consultant with ThemeVision LLC, a jury research and litigation consulting firm affiliated with Barnes & Thornburg LLP. Amit is both a lawyer and a social psychologist, combining his background in law and psychology to provide clients with a comprehensive approach to jury selection and consulting. Amit can be reached via telephone at (317) 231-7744 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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