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

Nobody likes the sausage meat, especially not those who make it...

The above video is a clip from the popular NBC show ‘The West Wing’ a show with many moments of great negotiation, I’ve picked this clip because it is one of the more politically heavy moments of the show, at a point where the President and Speaker of the House are in the middle of negotiating a congressional budget, the consequences of not reaching a consensus would be the shutting down of the Federal government indefinitely. This is not really an option, so what happens?

The combaters each use two techniques, so which wins the negotiation, or do they both leave happy – the true aim of a negotiation? The Speaker of the House starts off using the higher authority gambit, this is where a negotiator says they cannot take the deal as a result of a third – not present – party being unhappy with it. This technique tends to put pressure on the other party because they are getting a worse deal than before, but at the behest of a person you cannot negotiate with. In this clip around the 1 minute mark The Speaker of the House puts that the members of his party will only settle for a 3% reduction, backing it up with the reason that they are accountable to their constituents; a solid move given how a reason makes any request more persuasive (Langer et al., 1978). The President’s response is to question the outcome as a result of this new demand. Questioning the other party in a negotiation works well because it makes it difficult for them to continue lying (if they are), and highlights new issues that need to be brought to the table and considered. In this clip (1:49) he asks what happens next? While the deal might work at this point, what does it mean for the future? The President says, “5%, 50%”, maybe showing some fear of the foot-in-the-door effect that accepting the 3% might bring (Freedman and Fraser, 1966). This throws The Speaker and he has little response.

So at the 2 minute marker the duo are head to head, one successful technique used each, horns locked in their verbal joust. The final moves from each of the players come together; The Speaker uses a technique the layman sees as a powerful immovable stance, he declares an ultimatum “This is it”! The President’s response is a powerful and oft over-looked negotiation technique, he remains silent, silent long enough for the other party to question what is happening and rethink their stance, before a simple “No”. The silence aims to allow The Speaker to come out of the corner he has backed himself into and reconsider the negotiation from a fresh angle, but, insistent that he thinks he holds the upper hand, he continues to hold The President to ransom, “there is no altering this offer, Mr President”. Silence in negotiations has been shown to do just the opposite though; it forces the other person to fill the silence, usually with a concession (Cortini, 2001)!

The final move from The President is bold, but is perhaps the lesson you should take away from this blog post! The aim of a negotiation is not to reach a settlement regardless, at times you will find yourself in negotiations that reach outside the point you are willing to offer, or outside the Zone of Preferred Alternatives.  At times like these it is important to remember that the point of a negotiation is to get yourself in a deal you’re happy with, if this point isn’t reached then the only way to ‘win’ the negotiation from your stance is to walk away. Not all battles can be won, not all negotiations will end up in your Zone of Preferred Alternatives, not even someone who knows all these techniques will always win. There is no such thing as a perfect negotiator, there is only the situation, and if the situation is telling you to walk away, then sometime that exactly what you should do.

AJ King


Cortini, M. (2001). Silence as a tool for the negotiation of sense in a multi-party conversations. In Weigand, E., & Dascal, M. (Ed.). Negotiation and Power in Dialogic Interaction (pp. 167-182). Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company.
Freedman, J. I., & Fraser, S. C. (1966). Compliance without pressure: The foot-in-the-door technique. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 4, 195-202.
Langer, E. J., 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.

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