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

May I start later?

Imagine my worry when I could not be available on the date a placement needed me to start from. Catastrophising that the arrangement would be called off, I employed a couple of negotiation tactics. To my relief, a new date was arranged.

First of all, I told them why I could not begin the placement on that particular date. Providing a reason has been shown to affect the decision process of those you negotiate with. Langer, Blank and Chanowitz (1978) observed whether people would allow someone to skip the photocopying queue in a library if a simple reason was provided. Saying “Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine because I have to make some copies”? was significantly more effective at skipping the queue than saying “excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine”?. The confederate was essentially saying the same thing in both sentences, by implying that five pages is a menial amount and therefore she would not take long to copy them. However, the presence of the word ‘because’ in the first example explicitly introduces a reason to the situation, and people like to be provided with reasons for decisions they make (Bastardi & Shafir, 2000). So, by explaining why I could not begin my placement on the company’s requested date, I was signalling that I had a legitimate reason to request a later date. Therefore, appearing legitimate may lead to people feeling more comfortable about accommodating a request.

I also “assessed my BANTA” (best alternative to negotiated agreement; Malhotra & Bazerman, 2008, p. 20). As well as providing a reason why I could not fit in with their timeframe, I thought about all my alternative options. I considered which of the prior arrangements could be rearranged, and because the second year exams were not finishing until late June, there was no way I could change these arrangements. Of course, one alternative option that came to mind was to call the placement off, but the experience was too valuable to pass by. So my best alternative was to offer to complete the one-day induction before my exams started, so as well as starting late, I was not going to be behind everyone else too. To my delight, this was granted, and visiting them on this day turned out to be really useful because I met staff, completed paperwork and took a tour, all in preparation for the actual placement which would commence after my exams. Consequently, actually starting the placement was not daunting, as I had already met staff I would be working with.

I employed these tactics before ever learning about them. This shows that they occur in everyday behaviour, but understanding them better has helped me to understand how I can become a more efficient negotiator. This will become especially useful to me as I enter a career in teaching.


Bastardi, A., & Shafir, E. (2000). Nonconsequential reasoning and its consequences. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 9, 216-219.

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, 635-642.

Malhotra, D., & Bazerman, M. H. (2008). Negotiation Genius. New York: Bantam Dell.  

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