Captain Philips, a 2013 film starring Tom Hanks, is based on a real-life story of an American cargo ship that was taken hostage by Somali pirates. The two hour gripping story beautifully illustrates a number of persuasion and negotiation techniques. I will take you few a handful but I strongly recommend you watch the film for yourself to fully appreciate the clever manipulation employed throughout.
So let us start with persuasive techniques and Cialidi’s (2001) principle of liking. Ths is used by Captain Phillips once he has been taken hostage in a lifeboat by the four pirates (see what I mean that watching the film might be helpful to understand the context). Phillips tries to make the men like him by appearing to be very helpful and kind, for example, by offering to bandage one of the men’s bleeding feet. Cialidi (2001) highlights that people are more likely to comply with the requests of individuals they like; therefore being nice to the pirates could lead to this and give Captain Phillips more leverage when asking them to release him. Evidence for Cialidi’s (2001) principle of liking was found by Goei et al. (2003) who found participants who rated another participant (actually a confederate) highly on a likeable scale were more likely to buy a raffle ticket from them. This liking was induced by the confederate getting them a drink; this act of kindness therefore increased the likelihood of compliance. Exactly the consequence that Captain Phillips is trying to induce.
Before Captain Phillips is taken on the lifeboat he tries to negotiate with the pirates in order to ensure the safety of the ship’s crew. At this time the crew members have the pirate’s leader hostage and Captain Phillips is with the other pirates. The crew want all the pirates to leave immediately but the pirates are not willing to leave empty handed. This negotiation stage is called the Zone of Possible Agreement (ZOPA) – both parties are exploring possible alternatives and trying to achieve the best possible outcome. Captain Phillips offers the pirates the $30,000 from the ship’s safe but they laugh in his face saying they came here for a million. This is case of anchoring; the initial value that they had in mind has influenced their perceptive and therefore $30,000 seems like peanuts (if they had not aimed to get a million I am sure $30,000 would have looked much more appealing). Bergman, Ellingsen, Johannesson, and Svensson (2010) have found that anchoring can influence individual’s decisions in a number of domains including willingness to pay for an item after providing an irrelevant number (e.g. passport number). In order to make a deal, both parties need to make contingent concessions. This type of compromise is a form of reciprocity. If one party can see that the other is making a concession then they feel obliged to do this too. This can work in more everyday situations too, for example, Raghubir (2004) found that customers are more likely to buy an item if they are first given a gift by that company; they feel that that the company has given them something and therefore they feel they should reciprocate the gesture of goodwill. In the context of the film, the pirates are willing to leave the ship on the condition the Phillips comes with them. Although the cargo ship’s crew argue, Captain Phillips agrees and tells his men to release the pirates’ leader.
*CAUTION SPOILER ALERT*. After a tense exchange all negotiation breaks down and the United States Navy SEALs take over and shoot the three pirates remaining in the life boat. Which perhaps suggests that negotiation is less effective when people are desperate, sleep deprived and carrying weapons.
By Alex Bamsey
Bergman, O., Ellingsen, T., Johannesson, M., & Svensson, C. (2010). Anchoring and cognitive ability. Economics Letters, 107 (1), 66 – 68.
Cialdini, R. B. (2001). Inﬂuence: Science and practice. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.
Goei, R., Lindsey, L. L. M., Boster, F. J., Skalski, P. D., & Bowman, J. M. (2003). The mediating roles of liking and obligation on the relationship between favors and compliance. Communication Research, 30(2), 178-197.
Raghubir, P. (2004). Free gift with purchase: promoting or discounting the brand?. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 14(1), 181-186.