Psychology Melbourne Blog

News and Insights from the Science of the Mind

Psychology in negotiation

Edited by Jill Wright,

Here's an arresting thought from a recent podcast from the BBC Radio 4 show The Human Zoo, on negotiation: "There is probably no more basic psychological principle than how we influence folk."

The speaker was Professor Margaret A. Neale, who teaches courses on negotiation at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. You might find the PDF discussing her negotiating tips - essentially shifting the negotiation from being a win/lose game (with women more often than not, unfortunately, on the losing side due to their low expectations) to one of mutual benefit - as fascinating as I did.

Her basic assumption is that negotiation is problem solving. "Successful negotiations do not begin as a demand or ultimatum," her discussion guide states. "They start with the question, 'Is there an alternative solution that can benefit both you and me?'"

So often in my work as a marriage and relationship counsellor, I'm struck by the fact that a lot of the problems people find themselves in would be lessened, if not eliminated, if they only knew how to negotiate better.

As another speaker on the show - Dr Biljana Scott - put it when talking about diplomatic language, "Diplomacy is the art of letting others have things your way."

Research psychologists have spent a lot of time examining various aspects of negotiating.

At Columbia University, for instance, a team led by Adam Galinsky divided negotiators into two classes: promotion-focused people who are targeted on opportunities to end up better off than they are now and prevention-focused people, who focus instead on what they could lose if they don't succeed. Guess which one is more likely to get what they want?

Professor Neale's advice is to think about things from the other side's perspective. "If I can access your interests and motivations and what makes you feel like you have accomplished something I have a very powerful tool," she says.

That allows you to frame the negotiations as a joint problem-solving exercise rather than a battle. "How can people not like someone who helps them solve their problems?" she asks rhetorically.

But keep in mind another piece of her advice: The goal is not to get agreement. The goal is not to get a deal. The goal is to get a good deal! That might not apply in a relationship, where sometimes the goal is agreement.


About the editor, Jill Wright

Jill Wright (MAPS, AAFT, AICD) is the Director and Principal Psychologist at Psychology Melbourne. Jill was twice elected General Director of the Australian Psychological Society and established the APS Victorian branch Study Group Network. Find out more about Jill Wright.

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