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Psychology and negotiation

Psychology is the study of human and animal behavior and includes a number of areas of study including instinct, heredity, environment and culture. Psychology also extends to study of mental processes including learning and memory, and mental functions including intelligence, thought and language. Companies frequently use psychometric tests when recruiting and some attempt to use the results of such tests in managing their human resourcing policies. In the lay person's mind psychology, which is a general study of humans, is sometimes confused with psychiatry, a branch of medicine dealing with mental disorder. Most of us have a number of misunderstood and misused terms from psychiatry and psychoanalysis in our vocabulary.

In one sense the information on culture and anthropology is related to psychology, but for the negotiator it is worth studying all aspects of human behavior and motivation because in any complex negotiation it is necessary to understand the person or organization with whom we are dealing. This is another aspect of communication. It is also possible to learn much from the study of the dialogue which takes place between enemies in war (see Herman Kahn - On Escalation).

In war both sides broadcast their war aims and objectives; where one side is winning it will try to set out the conditions for peace, often by making speeches, as Hitler did in the summer of 1940 when he thought that the British would agree to peace terms, and Churchill replied, "We shall never surrender", there was more than rhetoric in his words. Psychological insights can be applied to groups of people who share a common world view, such insights become the norms by which organizations, such as nations live. Accounts of Japan before 1945 stress the normative values of duty to the Emperor, lack of sympathy for those beneath you, the Imperial destiny of the Japanese and the stress on group values as opposed to the values of individualism (although the later remains a factor in Japan today), Americans have long placed stress on the freedom of the individual, the importance of equality before the law and the value of each life; although there have been counter influences that have excluded groups such as American blacks.

In dealing with individuals we can regard each individual as having a number of layers of psychological behaviours, rather like a number of inter-acting filters over a spotlight. At an individual level gender is important (boys and girls are different), age may important in that the individual has a greater or lesser amount of experience, intelligence may be the most obvious mental attribute, it's unusual for organizations to rely on the less-gifted to conduct their negotiations, but extremely clever people can be difficult to deal with as they may have less focus on their group (they may have a greater tendency to discount the group mentality referred to below). However the greatest weakness of many negotiators is their weak self-image, low self esteem, many outwardly successful people feel that they are inferior to others and have achieved their position partly in response to their inner need to show others that they are actually better than they themselves believe. A person with low self-esteem will trend to push negotiations too far and to allow his own ego to dictate the course of negotiations. In negotiations with such an individual there are basically two alternatives (other than giving in and getting a raw deal), firstly try and get rid of that individual, and the best method is to stand up to him (and his bullying) in such a way that he (and its not always a he) loses face in front of his colleagues, and the second way is to convince the individual that he has been given a much better deal than may strictly be the case, he can present this as a major victory. The weakness of such a person is that his colleagues probably do not like him and will not always give him the full support in negotiations that he needs. As noted in looking at anthropology primates naturally form coalitions in order to gain and maintain power in organizations.

A different set of problems arises with someone who is extremely introverted; the individual may be very intelligent, well-informed, well-educated and excellent at dealing with the mass of information associated with negotiations, however he may find it extremely difficult to actually deal with people (he may be brilliant at acting a yes man to the Chairman who has therefore promoted him to the wrong job). As a result such an individual will trend to over-rely on lawyers and other specialists, and the negotiation can then run into the problems of too much complexity, obsession with details, lack of over-all focus and failure to meet dead-lines. The risk of failure is such a situation is high and additional problems may arise because the individual, who is ill-equipped to deal with face to face negotiations, tries to create pressure behind the scenes by involving third parties, such situations can become highly political as such a person is well versed in reallocating blame for the problems being faced in your direction. In such a situation you need to set key deadlines, identify key issues and communicate them wider (e.g. to senior management in both parties) and use your experts to drive though detail promptly. It is also sensible to point out to the other negotiator that it's a difficult business but that you share his wish to produce a comprehensive deal which reflects well on both of you, and with which all the lawyers etc. agree as quickly as possible - in other words give the man an escape route. Ideally you would like to see the other side replace him with a slightly more extroverted person, someone who says hello at the start of meetings and will show some human emotions.

It's a fact of life that dealing with an intelligent well-balanced person will be the toughest negotiation, but it also offers the prospect of creating a genuine "win-win" agreement in the shortest possible time. Such a person will have spend time in understanding your organization's requirements and its strengths and weaknesses. Barry J Nalebuff and Adam M Branenburger set out one such strategy in "Co-opetition" (HarperCollins 1996), they point to the need for business partners to enjoy mutual success, that good agreements create a value net as alliances wider the ability of companies to deliver profitable solutions.

In practice the negotiator will probably take little notice of psychometric tests, handwriting analysis, or the date of birth of the other negotiator; there will be a subconscious weighing-up of a fellow primate and the game will begin. However the reasonable negotiator will make it his business to have a basic understanding of the drivers of human behavior which will inform his instinctive reactions and allow him to reflect on his opposite number. Eric Berne in "Games People Play, The Psychology of Human Relationships" (1964) argued that human social interaction, including negotiations, is a form of game playing, "significant social intercourse most commonly takes the form of games." Berne also argues that individuals will take specific roles during such games, the archetypes identified by Jung are another aspect of this behavior.

Daniel Goldman, in "Vital Lies, simple truths, the psychology of self-deception" (Bloomsbury 1997) identifies the essential importance of such role playing to members of groups. Goldman says, "Self-deception operates both at the level of the individual mind, and in the collective awareness of the group. To belong to a group of any sort, the tacit price of membership is to agree not to notice one's own feelings of uneasiness and misgivings, and certainly not to question anything that challenges the group's way of doing things." Wilfred Bion described the group self as a "group mentality", that is a shared pool of the members' wishes, opinions, thoughts and emotions. The negotiator, well representing his own organization, is in the unique position of standing aside from the two organizations which are undertaking the ritual dance of negotiation. The negotiator must understand the dynamics of both groups, their self-images and the two group mentalities. In cases where the two groups do not share similar world views then it may be extremely difficult to enter into a successful long-term relationship, such as a partnership agreement, but this does not preclude a successful supply agreement, but the negotiator will need to ensure that the "group mentalities" of both groups are acknowledged. In international terms Britain and France have actually a long-established alliance, over a million men from the British Empire died in France in 1914-18 defending France, but misunderstandings continue and both countries still find it easy to mistrust the other, currently (2002) the French are being blamed by the British for the stream of illegal immigrants coming via the Channel Tunnel. In contrast Britain and the US enjoy a completely different relationship, the common language, family ties and a shared culture have made the relationship more like a family relationship; the British instinctively support the US, not only over September 11th, and the wartime alliance continues at the most secret levels.

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