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 16, 2014

How Not To Negotiate

Here is a clip from the 1999 movie “Ten Things I Hate About You”, a story based on Shakespeare’s “Taming of the Shrew” about a girl only being allowed to date when her older sister does. In the scene, Joey attempts to offer a price for Patrick to take Kat out on a date. Joey is, frankly, a jerk so it is good to see him being put down by Patrick’s superior negotiating skills.

Under Cialdini’s (1993) principles of persuasion, it is not hard to see why Joey is not particularly successful. He begins the conversation stating flat out what he wants and only later offers money in return, whereas laws of reciprocity suggest people are more likely to comply with a request if they have been given something beforehand. Seeing as he seems to think Patrick likes eating duck, perhaps he could have begun the conversation by offering a duck sandwich, or something.

Another of Cialdini’s principles in which Joey falls short is, evidently, liking. Unsurprisingly, research shows people are more likely to agree to a request if it is made by someone they like (e.g. Morgan & Bergeron, 2007). Given that he makes little effort to be a nice person, and comes across as a bit too arrogant, it is not entirely shocking that the table is left open to a “hostile” negotiation.

Meanwhile, Patrick makes use of some key advantages in negotiation tactics. He says very little at the beginning of the conversation, which forces Joey to fill the silence by playing all of  his cards straight away. In this silence, it is also possible for a “framing effect” to come into play. While most high-school boys (yes, they are supposed to pass as school-aged in this film) would hardly say no to being paid to take a girl out on a date, in the context of the girl being generally grumpy and rather violent it seems quite a big ask.

A further advantage Patrick holds is that he knows exactly what Joey wants, and has a good idea of his own BATNA- Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement. This makes it possible for him to take control of the situation, because he is indifferent and can play around to see how far things can be pushed. He seems fine with walking away, whereas Joey comes across as eager to reach an agreement. In 2005, Shiv, Loewenstein and Bechara argued that decreased emotional reactions played an important role in good decision making, and so it works against Joey that he is so forthright with what he wants.  

There are a number of things we could learn about this situation: do not tell a stranger you want them to do something before offering something in return, do not come across as desperate in your negotiation, and generally just do not be a jerk. One of the great things about studying persuasion and influence is that not only can you say it is better to be a likeable person, but that there is scientific evidence to back up this claim.

Oh, and do not get in a position where you actually want to pay another guy $50 to take out someone else. There are certainly enough powers of persuasion to come up with a more effective idea.


Cialdini, R. B. (1993). Influence: The psychology of persuasion. New York: Morrow.

Morgan, T., & Bergeron, A. (2007). The effect of teach likability on student compliance. Journal of Undergraduate Psychological Research, 2, 54-56.

Shiv, B., Loewenstein, G., & Bechara, A. (2005). The dark side of emotion in decision-making: When individuals with decreased emotional reactions make more advantageous decisions. Cognitive Brain Research, 23, 85-92.

Emma Barry

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