Behaviour Change

PROPAGANDA FOR CHANGE is a project created by the students of Behaviour Change (ps359) and Professor Thomas Hills @thomhills at the Psychology Department of the University of Warwick. This work was supported by funding from Warwick's Institute for Advanced Teaching and Learning.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Argo on then

Lester: ‘Look what do you say 15 thou and let’s close on this?’
Max: ‘You want me to be honest with you, Les?’
Lester: ‘No, I would like you to Bullshit me, Max.’
Max: ‘All right. I enjoyed your films, the early ones, I took this meeting out of respect because I wanted to say no to your face.’
Lester: ‘Thank you, very respectful.’
Max: ‘You’re finished Lester. Get your cataracts fixed, read the trades. MGM just capitalised for 6 new films. They’re screaming for sci-fi. They’re offering me four times what you guys are offering me.’
Lester: ‘Well, what can I say; congratulations. But see, it kinda worries me what you said, and let me tell you why. Couple of weeks ago I was sitting at Trader Vic’s, I was enjoying a Mai Tai, when my pal Warren Beatty comes in. He wishes me well and we had a little chat. Seems he was attached to star in Zulu empire, which was gonna anchor that MGM slate. But Warren confided in me that the picture has gone over budget because the Zulu extras wanna unionise. They may be cannibals but they want health and dental so the movie’s kaput. Which means that the MGM deal ain’t gonna happen and your script ain’t worth the buffalo shit on a nickel. So, the way it looks to me, through the cataracts I grant you, is that you can either sign here, and take $10,000 for your toilet paper script, or you can go f*** yourself… with all due respect.’

There is a scene in the movie ‘Argo’ during which one character, Lester, is negotiating with a scriptwriter, Max, to let him buy his script for only $10,000. During this negotiation, Lester uses three main negotiating techniques to achieve his goal: having done his research, explaining why Max should accept the $10,000, and knowing what Max valued most.
This meant that Lester knew that Max wouldn’t really be able to say no to him, because what Max valued was selling his script, and he knew he was the only real offer because he had researched and so knew that the reasons Max gave for wanting more money weren’t true. By explaining to Max why he should sell the script to him for $10,000, he couldn’t escape.

Research has shown that these three negotiative techniques are effective. Lester explained why he didn’t believe Max, and gave justifications as to why Max should sell him his script. Langer, Blank, and Chanowitz (1978) demonstrated that justifying an action can be very persuasive. They found that just saying the word ‘because’ and providing any reason at all for why someone should do something increases compliance rates! Lester also makes it impossible for Max to lie to him because he has done research about the script and the film and so knows that what Max says isn’t true. Godin (2009) argues that ‘information is power’ to a negotiator, as if you know as much information about the field as possible, it is harder for you to be misled. This makes it easier to negotiate as you have more knowledge about the zone of proximal agreement. Related to this point is knowledge about what the other party values. Lester knows that Max needs to sell his script, and so although he will try to bargain, he will ultimately accept any reasonable deal, and so is in a better position to negotiate. Guth, Schmittberger, and Schwarze (1982) demonstrate how understanding another person’s values is a powerful technique in negotiating. They used the ultimatum bargaining paradigm where participants had a certain amount of money they had to divide between them and another participant, with the goal being that they get more money overall. However, if the other participant isn’t happy with the division and they reject it, neither party gets any money. To be successful at this task you have to understand what the other person values and how much they would be willing to settle for, as only if you know what they want can you work out how little they will settle for.

Hannah Thomas


Godin, P. (2009). Principles of negotiation. CCH Canadian Limited

Guth, W., Schmittberger, R., & Schwarze, B. (1982). An experimental analysis of ultimatum bargaining. Journal of Economic Behaviour and Organisation, 3, 367-388.

Langer, E. J., Blank, A., & Chanowitz, B. (1978). The mindlessness of ostensibly thoughtful action: The role of" placebic" information in interpersonal interaction. Journal of personality and social psychology, 36(6), 635.

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