This Month's Topic:
HOW TO USE YOUR OPPONENTS' SENSES TO
IMPROVE YOUR POSITION:
Last month we looked at how our senses determine how we perceive a situation or an interaction. We learned that we can influence how another person will perceive something by giving them a specific experience just prior to the event. So this month, we are going to take that information one step further.
Soft or Hard:
In an experiment, participants sat in either a wooden chair or a cushioned chair while reading the same scenario used in the previous experiment. Those who sat in hard chairs judged the employee to be significantly more stable and less emotional than did those who sat in soft chairs. Next, the same participants were asked to negotiate for a new car with a sticker price of $16,500. Though chair hardness did not affect the size of participants' first offers, it did affect their willingness to raise their offers in a second round of haggling. Those who sat on soft chairs raised their offers by an average of $1,243.60; those who sat on hard chairs raised their offers by significantly less—$896.50. The experience of sitting in a hard chair appeared to unconsciously translate into a more hard-line approach to negotiation, such that these participants were reluctant to deviate from their initial decisions.
In Ackerman, Nocera, and Bargh's experiments, the feel of an object seemed to unconsciously trigger metaphorical thinking—light or heavy, soft or hard—that influenced people's choices.
The Take Away: What does this mean for negotiators? By putting a counterpart in contact with or not in contact with the qualities of certain objects, you can influence them in a certain direction (a strategy with ethical implications). So be careful about what you or they sit on or touch prior to the negotiation and make sure you are influencing them or yourself in the way you intended.
A final note: Nonverbal cues often do lend useful insights into a counterpart's emotions. Face-to-face negotiations tend to be more successful than telephone or online talks for this very reason. So go ahead and meet in person when possible, but be aware that what you touch and see during negotiations could have a subtle but real effect on your judgments.
* "3 Keys to the Senses and Their Impact on Negotiation", Harvard Negotiation Newsletter, Vol. 13, Num. 12, December 2010