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.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Never forget that you killed your negotiation partner's parents if you want your negotiation to be successful....

Voldemort: “Unicorn blood can sustain me, but it cannot give me a body of my own. But there is something that can. Something that, conveniently enough, lies in your pocket. (…) Don’t be a fool. Why suffer a horrific death when you can join me to live?”

Harry: “Never.”

“Bravery. Your parents had it, too. Tell me, Harry, would you like to see your mother and father again? Together we can bring them back. All I ask is for something in return. (Harry pulls out the stone of his pocket). That’s it, Harry. There is no good and evil. There is only power and those too weak to seek it. Together we’ll do extraordinary things. Just give me the stone.”

“You liar.”

“Kill him!”

In this scene from Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Voldemort is trying to persuade Harry to hand him the stone, as it would allow him to live forever. By offering to bring back his parents, he tries to negotiate with him rather than forcing him to do it. 

What is good about his negotiation attempt? Voldemort has realized that negotiation is not a zero sum fallacy. Therefore, instead of working against Harry, he attempts to get Harry’s consent by negotiating with him. 

The zone of possible agreement is defined by both negotiators’ BATNA (best alternative to negotiated agreement). Voldemort’s alternative is to attack Harry and force him to give him the stone. However, at present, Voldemort is stuck in Quirrell’s body. This makes movements rather difficult. Thus, he does not really have an alternative. What about Harry, does he really have an alternative? An eleven-year-old, underage wizard against one of his professors who (moreover) is being possessed by the (possibly) mightiest wizard of all times? It seems as if he doesn’t really have any choice but to give in. 

Yet, after Voldemort’s first proposal, he says “never” – following the common rule that if something seems too good to be true then it most probably is. Voldemort, on the other hand, has one more ace in the hole: He knows that in order to negotiate successfully, it is necessary not only to identify your own needs, but also those of your opponents (Churchman, 1995).He knows what Harry values the most: His family. So, by offering to bring back Harry’s mother and father, he seems to make an offer Harry can’t possibly resist. What is all the evil in the world against having your family back? So why does this negotiation not work?

The answer is: There are several mistakes in Voldemort’s negotiation technique. Firstly, he does not use ‘because’. Langer, Blank and Chanowitz (1978) have shown that if you if you say “because” and provide any reason for why you want something to happen, whether it is actually a proper reason or not, leads to higher compliance rates in the negotiation partners. 

Secondly, Voldemort is impatient. Hadn’t he immediately given the orders to kill Harry just because he refused one time too many, he might have been able to persuade him into actually giving him the stone. By losing his patience, however, he reveals his true identity and therefore loses the case. He uses a positional approach, by locking into the position he had chosen to take. This often leads to a “no deal” (Godin, 2009). Impatience also has a negative impact on the relationship of the two negotiators. If you damaged the relationship to the person you are negotiating with at some point this might create a pushback later – as is happening to Voldemort here (Godin, 2009). 

Finally, and most importantly, a good negotiator doesn’t try to make a deal no matter what. Voldemort lies to Harry, and a good negotiator should never lie. Being dishonest will not help the case: Harry knows that Voldemort killed his parents and therefore will not want to bring them back. Research has shown that when a proposer’s lie gets revealed it is less likely that his offer will be accepted in the future. Moreover, the counterpart will be viewed as less trustworthy and will therefore not want to be interacted with (Boles, Croson, & Murnighan, 2000). 

In conclusion, by offering Harry what he values most, Voldemort shows a good attempt to negotiate. However, he should not have forgotten that he had killed his opponent’s parents eleven years ago – which enables Harry to see that Voldemort is not telling the truth, and therefore makes a possible agreement impossible.  

Anna Werner


Boles, T. L., Croson, R. T. A., & Murnighan, J. K. (2000). Deception and retribution in repeated ultimatum bargaining. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 83(2), 235-259.
Churchman, D. (1995). Negotiation: Process, tactics, theory. (2nd ed., pp. 1-101). London, England: University Press of America, Inc.
Godin, H. (2009). Principles of negotiation. Canadian CCH Limited. 1331-1433.

Langer, E., 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), 635-642.

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