David A. Lax and James K. Sebenius explore three psychological traps that often get in the way of effective negotiations because when parties view the process through a distorted psychological lens, they will have a hard time getting the interests right. “Three of the most dangerous traps are: the mythical ‘fixed pie’, self-serving role biases, and partisan perceptions.” 3-D Negotiation (Boston,Harvard Business School Press, 2006), pp.79-81. I strongly suggest that you buy and seriously study 3-D Negotiation.
- The Mythical “Fixed Pie”: There are times when there is in fact a fixed pie, where one side’s gain is the other side’s loss. But in most cases, the pie is not fixed, especially when the parties creatively obtain all the needed facts and explore all the options and interests. Remember the Fluffy case study mentioned in the November Gregory Negotiation Report where the pie was thought to be fixed on economic price interests only, when in fact Ms. Jones was really concerned about what would happen to her beloved dog, Fluffy’s grave site.
- Self-Serving Role Biases: Many negotiators seem almost hardwired to interpret information in strongly self-serving ways. Lax and Sebenius explain that in the Harvard senior executive program, they give the group identical financial information about company A negotiating to buy company B. The group of executives is then randomly assigned to the roles of “buyer” or “seller.” After being given time to study the materials, the sellers and buyers were asked to value company B, the company being sold. Those assigned the role of sellers gave median valuations more than twice as high as those given by the buyers. The valuation gaps had no factual basis. The sellers and buyers simply had self-serving biases based on the roles they were given. This phenomenon extends to assessing your chances in court and other types of conflict.
- Partisan Perceptions: “So the evidence suggests that we humans systematically err in processing facts. We are even worse at assessing the other side, especially in adversarial situations. As viewed by an outsider, those caught up in disintegrating partnerships or marriages often appear to hold exaggerated, negative views of each other. Extensive research has documented an unconscious mechanism in our human psychology that leads us to see our own side as ‘more talented, honest, and morally upright,’ while at the same time disparaging or even vilifying the opposition. This often leads to inflated perceptions of the other side’s position and overestimates of the actual conflict.
“Partisan perceptions can easily become self-fulfilling prophecies. If you’re seated at the negotiating table in the absolute, unshakable conviction that your counterpart is a stubborn and difficult character, you are likely to act in ways that will trigger and worsen those very behaviors.” 3-D Negotiation, p. 81.
Lax and Sebenius ask: “How to counteract these powerful biases? Keep in mind the useful admonition from Getting to Yes: ‘don’t deduce their intentions from your fears.’ Or, in a more cold-blooded vein, recall the advice from The Godfather, Part III: ‘Don’t hate your enemies. It only clouds your judgment.'” 3-D Negotiation, p. 81.
Negotiation Tip: Don’t try to outsmart your common sense. Re-focus your lens and look at the problem from the other person’s perspective.