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Victoria Pynchon

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She Negotiates

She Negotiates

The 33 cent wage and income gap is unacceptable and unnecessary. So is the cliché glass ceiling. Bottom line, our...

The Power of Influence

Even the Evangelical-Pie-Expanding-Negotiation-Collective (which awards this week's Exploding Pie Trophy to Diane Levin's Brilliant Post on the Inefficiencies of Trickery, Force and Persuasion) occasionally needs to resort to deception, influence and naked power plays.

So it is that we turn to Robert B. Cialdini's Six Rules of Influence that Could Make or Break Your Next Commercial Negotiation. 

Rule of Reciprocity

The rule of reciprocity is descriptive rather than prescriptive. When one person freely gives another something of value -- time, information, goods, or, in negotiations, concessions -- the receiving party inevitably feels an obligation to reciprocate.

Studies show, for instance, that the peppermint candy your waiter leaves with the check for dinner, dramatically increases the tip you give him. The same principle is used by charitable institutions whenever they send you return address labels bearing logos for -- pick one -- Amnesty International; the Red Cross; Habitat for Humanity, the Union Rescue Mission, and the like.

If unaware of this principle, the recipient of unasked for "favors" can be induced to enter into drastically unequal exchanges. To rid ourselves of the discomfort arising from an unpaid debt, for instance, we often agree to a request for a substantially larger favor than the one bestowed upon us.

Included within this rule is the "rejection-then-retreat technique," which relies heavily on the pressure to reciprocate concessions. By starting with an extreme demand that is certain to be rejected, the negotiator can profitably retreat to a smaller request--one that was desired in the first instance.

No matter how outrageous the opening offer, the second request is far more likely to be accepted because it appears to be and is a tempting concession (so long as the opening "outrageous" offer doesn't cause the termination of the negotiations at the outset).

Commitment and Consistency

Despite being criticized as the "hobgoblin of small minds," people continue to desire consistency in their own and other people's communications, behavior, beliefs and attitudes.

Consistency is particularly valuable in an age in which we are being bombarded with too much information from too many sources and being asked to make too many decisions without sufficient reliable data upon which to make them.


As recent successful political campaigns attest, staying "on message" can be more important than what that message is.   (a perfect excuse to show you my favorite negative political ad parody)

A consistent message provides an attractive shortcut to decision making without excessive anxiety (buyer's remorse). Consistency also implies commitment to the principle being endorsed or the deal being offered.

In negotiating a deal, these principles suggest making an opening offer that is consistent with commitments that will later be requested. Commitments are most effective when they are active, public, apparently hard-won, and seen as being internally motivated rather than coerced. The drive to be and appear consistent can impel your bargaining partner to act in ways that are clearly contrary to his own best interests.

Social Proof

You were first warned about this influential principle of social control by your mother -- that lecture about other kids jumping cliffs.  The answer to the question whether Susie's mom's approval of her tattoo means your mom should approve of yours as well is often "YES!" even after adolescence. 

The principle of Social Proof stimulates compliance by making it appear that "everyone else is doing it," particulary those with influenence such as the "cool kids" in high school or celebrities in popular culture. If you think you're immune to this principle, take a look at the cars in the parking lot at Spago -- what percentage of the vehicles are BMW's and what percentage are Kias? Enough said.

Social proof is most influential when people are unsure of themselves in an ambiguous situation and when those urging the desired behavior are similar to those being urged. Sad but true. We never really left high school.


When I was a young associate, my law firm gave its young lawyers 360 degree reviews, i.e., EVERYONE in the firm evaluated you, whether they worked with you or not. When called in for this review at the tender age of 28, my boss said: This is a curious result, Vickie. The people who work with you and know you well rate you very highly, but the people who don't know you, rate you very low.

He suggested that I join the firm's baseball team but I knew immediately what was wrong. I had, I'm afraid, a bit of an attitude about the insurance defense attorneys I didn't work with. Some of this had to do with the way they talked about women (this was 1983) and some of it had to do with party politics. I worked with the business litigators, Democrats to a person. The insurance people were largely Republicans at a time when party affiliation still mattered as much as long hair and hippie beads had in 1969.

Without knowing it, I'd let people who I feared believe that I didn't like them. I immediately set about mending my ways. I began to say "hello" to these "others" in the firm and eventually began socializing with them -- focusing on our similarities rather than our differences.  

The following year, my 360 review had changed. Everyone liked me (more or less) because I'd gotten to know and like everyone else and they knew it. 

Cialdini lists two ways to create likeable relationships that mirror those efforts at my first law firm. Praise produces liking so long as it is sincere. Obsequious fawning will not. Second, rather than breeding contempt, familiarity facilitates liking, so long as you are looking for the good, rather than the bad, in people. So, not only your mother, but Walt Disney's Pollyanna was right as well.


Stanley Milgram's famous post-Holocaust studies of our propensity to follow authority's dictates even when it produces horrifying results, coupled with recent tragedies such as the massacres in the Baltic and Rwanda, remind us that the influence of authority is particularly strong.

We "read" authority from its symbols and trappings, including titles (Sir, Esquire, Doctor and the like); clothing (see The Devil Wears Prada) and, back to Spago, automobiles.

In separate studies investigating the influence of these symbols--those who possessed one or more of them were accorded more deference and elicited more obedience than others. Moreover, in each instance, those who obeyed or deferred to the authority of status, denied or drastically underestimated the effect authority pressures upon their decision making.


Unsurprisingly, people assign more value to opportunities that are less available to them. The principle of scarcity applies just as surely to the way information is evaluated as to the way the value of goods are determined. Limiting access to information causes people to want it more and to value it more.

Witholding information that is not valuable to its holder can make the delivery of that information as a negotiation concession valuable without detriment to the one offering the concession.

The scarcity principle is more likely to influence decisions by your negotiating partner if the items sought are newly scarce, i.e., things tend to have a higher value when they have only recently become restricted. Secondly, people are most attracted to scarce resources when they compete with others for them. For examples of this, turn on the Home Shopping Network at any time of day or log on to E-Bay.

If we use these principles ethically, and guard against their use against us, we can increase our effectiveness in every area of our lives, not the least of which is in our business dealings.

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