Behaviour Change

PROPAGANDA FOR CHANGE is a project created by the students of Behaviour Change (ps359) and Professor Thomas Hills 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 23, 2014

Karl the Tribesman: Nambas Negotiation

The above clip is taken from an episode of An Idiot Abroad 2 (Sky 1, 2011).  In this series, the round-headed Karl Pilkington is sent around the world and subjected to a selection of items from the famous Bucket List (…with hilarious results).  In this clip, Karl is with a tribe on the remote Pacific island of Malakula and is made an honorary tribe member in exchange for a pig.  There are two parts to this negotiation.  First is the pig/membership exchange, however this is a traditional, fixed deal so will not be the focus of this post.  The interesting part is when Karl tries to negotiate himself out of wearing the skimpy nambas (native leaf pants).
The following excerpts from the book (2012) are an edited/extended transcript of the conversation:

CHIEF:                   It is a tradition thing when we go fishing.
KARL:                    I think it’s more important to have a rod and bait when fishing.  Fishing tackle is important.  Not my tackle!  I’m not going to pull off that look.  What sort of rule is that?  If I don’t wear a nambas they won’t teach me to fish?
CHIEF’S SON:     You have to be in the nambas.
LUKE:                    It’s just for a short while.  I think it would be the right thing to do.
CHIEF’S SON:     After you put on nambas, then we have to do a dance here. 
KARL:                    See!  They’re adding a bit more now.  Pop these on, then we’re going to have a dance.  That’s when things pop out – when having a dance.
LUKE:                    It’s a taboo you’re messing with, something symbolic here, you know.
KARL:                    Yeah, well they’re messing with my symbollocks.  How can we move this on because this is getting more and more awkward as time goes on?

The outcome of this negotiation is that Karl does the dance, wears a more leafy child’s version of the nambas and keeps his own pants on underneath.  There are essentially two opposing parties: Karl vs. the tribe and TV crew.

The biggest issue of note here is that Karl could not walk away from this negotiation.  He had no exit option, which puts him at a disadvantage in this already asymmetrical negotiation (Giebels, De Dreu & Van de Vliert, 2000).  Karl did not enter the negotiation with a BATNA (‘Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement’) (e.g. Brett, Pinkley & Jackofsky, 1996), something which generally leads to better individual outcomes (Geddes, 2002).  This may be because a BATNA increases one’s effort, persistence, directed attention and creation of task strategies – according to goal-setting theory (Locke & Latham, 1990).  So did Karl at least have an idea of the worst thing he was willing to take?  Yes, he did: Karl makes it clear that he would not be willing to don the full – ‘sushi-like’ – nambas, and indeed he managed to get out of that. 

There are a number of extra pressures going against Karl in this exchange.  For instance, Karl is sensitive to time constraints to reaching an agreement, which is consistently shown to be a major factor in the outcomes of negotiations (Cramton, 1992).  On top of this, Karl undoubtedly spoke the most through this conversation.  Sure, there may be some language barriers that meant the tribe members did not speak much, but this even held for the TV crew (e.g. Richard in the clip; Luke in the above transcript).  Silence can be a useful tool in negotiations (Cortini, in Weigand & Dascal, 2001), thus as Karl spoke to fill the gaps, he was essentially adding to the pressure on himself to concede to something.  Furthermore, once he had introduced the idea of the longer nambas and the tribe members had accepted this, Karl then had no grounds to refuse this offer and try to push them down further; he would have had to come up with a new reason to renegotiate the nambas. 

But did he feel so annoyed for backing himself into a corner and conceding to wearing any kind of nambas at all?  The negotiation was anchored at the full nambas, so the longer leaf nambas did not seem so terrible in comparison.  Ask Karl to don the long nambas first and he may not have been so willing.  The contrast-giving effect of anchoring is well-documented (e.g. Sherif, Taub & Hovland, 1958). 

Interestingly, Karl attempts to change the way the tribe values the nambas, posing it as something else that they’re giving to him for free, and not as his part of the negotiation (i.e. they expect him to partake in this tradition).  But he is unsuccessful.  Why?  One way to find out how the party values something is to ask questions.  Karl does push the issue, but ultimately it was “taboo” to keep refusing, so tradition itself kept the tribe’s value in the nambas high.  Karl at least identified that the most important aspect of the tradition for the tribe was the dance.  The thing he most valued was the coverage of his unmentionables.  In sum, the must-haves of this integrative negotiation (Putnam et al., 1990) in order to appease both parties were the dance, some form of nambas, and genital coverage.  There was a Zone of Possible Agreement (ZOPA) within these parameters, which Karl did manage to establish.

So how did the tribe get what they wanted out of this negotiation?  Although perhaps not deliberately, the dance was mentioned after the nambas, which is another example of anchoring & contrast.  It goes against the old idea of sharing all bad news at once to minimise its impact, but the use of contrast worked this to their advantage such that the dance did not seem too bad in comparison to the nambas.  Indeed, this idea was reinforced with valence framing (Pratkanis, 2007) (e.g. “It’s a short dance.”) in persuading Karl to believe that the situation could be worse.  Social proof (Cialdini, 2007) was also on the side of the tribe in terms of tradition and the crew’s endorsement of the nambas (even if the latter only pushed it to make Karl look a tit and he was aware of this).  Furthermore, the tribe members were at an emotional advantage, as Karl was panicky about the nambas.  Less intense emotional reaction tends to lead to better individual outcomes (Shiv, Loewenstein & Bechara, 2005).  Finally, the tribe gave the first offer, which usually comes with bigger demands (Budescu & Au, 2002) and heavily influences the outcome of a negotiation (Ritov, 1996).  Overall, the tribe used a collaborative behavioural approach to this negotiation (generating alternatives for resolution, active listening etc.), while the crew arguably adopted a more contending (coercive) style (Brigham, De Castro & Shepherd, 2007).  This combination mounted the pressure onto Karl and in the end he had no choice but to don some sort of foliage and dance around in it. 

What lesson can be learnt from this negotiation?  Karl tried his best to get his own way, but ultimately was crushed by being outnumbered and on the worse side of an asymmetrical discussion.  I would hazard a guess that short of being a negotiation genius or Derren Brown, some things are just too steeped in tradition to weasel out of.  Karl, you may have lost this one, but at least it wasn’t nettles… 

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Youtube clip: lawngnome909

- - Izzy Fawdry, Blog #5

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