It’s Julia Roberts, it’s Richard Gear, it’s that film you start watching with your mum before you realise how awkward it’s going to be. It’s Pretty Woman. I’m pretty sure (unless you’ve been living under a rock forever) that you’ll have come across this film at some point. What you may not have realised is that this good old fashioned rom-com actually hinges on a business deal. And what do business deals always involve, a negotiation of course!
I’ve chosen this scene because I think it highlights some key aspects of a good negotiator.
The first key aspect highlighted here is that knowledge of alternatives makes for a better negotiation. Vivian points out that Edward could “get a million girls for free”; in doing this Vivian learns that he needs her specific skills as a “professional”. In making herself more of a commodity, Vivian begins to understand how she is valued in this transaction and this gives her more control over the price they will eventually agree on. Research has demonstrated that knowledge of alternatives has a profound effect on the outcome of a negotiation; in both increasing your benefit from the negotiation and your positive feelings about the negotiation (Pinkley et al, 1994). However in terms of actual alternatives, Vivian has very few. Edward is a rich business man who could go and find another call girl, if she refuses this offer her only alternative is to go back to walking the streets. For this reason, the power of the negotiation heavily favours Edward.
However, a skill that Vivian has to try and swing the negotiation in her favour is her likeability. A whole body of research has demonstrated that we are more likely to comply with people we like. Within this, Vivian has an advantage without needing to do anything at all; she is physically attractive (pretty woman!) Mack and Rainey (1990) found that the physical attractiveness of female job applicants predicted hiring more accurately than their qualifications; furthermore the hiring committee was totally unaware of this bias. This bias is due to an implicit association we make that attractive people also hold attractive traits: such as honesty and kindness. In this case though I suppose the negotiators are both attractive so maybe they cancel each other out? (Someone should research that.) Vivian also becomes more likeable through her use of humour (“I’d love to be your beck and call-girl.) Research has demonstrated that humour can increase the likelihood of compliance (O’quin & Aronoff, 1981).
This shows how both parties are able to use some tactics of compliance, as well as rules of good negotiation; which results in a favourable deal for them both. Although I’ve sure when Vivian finds out Edward sold off his last company for 50 million dollars, she might not be so pleased with the arrangement.
Mack, D., & Rainey, D. (1990). Female applicants' grooming and personnel selection. Journal of Social Behavior & Personality.
O'quin, K., & Aronoff, J. (1981). Humor as a technique of social influence.Social Psychology Quarterly, 349-357.
Pinkley, R. L., Neale, M. A., & Bennett, R. J. (1994). The impact of alternatives to settlement in dyadic negotiation. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 57(1), 97-116.