Negotiators Have To Be On The Outlook For Self-Fulfilling Prophecies

If we’re not careful, a self-fulfilling prophecy can work against us
Image Credit: Liza Lagman Sperl

When we are preparing for our next negotiation, we will try to take everything that we’re going to be up against into account. What this means is that we’ll study the issues, research who will be on the other side, and we may even check out the location for the negotiation. However, there is one additional thing that we may overlook – any self-fulfilling prophecies that we may be bringing to the table. If we aren’t careful, these can work against us just as much as the other side will be.

The Problem With Self-Fulfilling Prophecies

During a negotiation, when you expect people to be competitive it’s not only your own negotiation styles and negotiating techniques that change. By doing this you also set up self-fulfilling prophecies, such that your expectations about the other side’s behavior lead them to behave in ways that confirm your expectations. So what does a self-fulfilling prophecy look like? In a demonstration of the power of expectations to create reality, a test was administered to a group of elementary school children that assessed the children’s general intellectual ability.

The researchers told the kids’ teachers that the test could identify “late bloomers” in the class – children who were about to show a substantial leap forward in intellectual development. The reality was that nothing distinguished the “late bloomers” from the other children in the assessment. Apparently, as a result of the study the teachers’ high expectations of these students led them to show greater attention and encouragement to the late bloomers, who became more energized and worked harder.

In other studies, negotiators who expected their opponents to be competitive (though these expectations were not based on reality) reduced their own demands and achieved worse outcomes, thereby allowing their opponent to claim more value and become more competitive. By reducing their demands in the face of expected competition, these negotiators created a reality that was not only self-fulfilling but also self-defeating. In the study, after talks ended, these negotiators’ opponents altered their self-perceptions; they came to view themselves as more competitive than did negotiators who were not expected to be competitive.

The Danger Of Bringing A Self-Fulfilling Prophecy To A Negotiation

During a negotiation, your expectations of a seemingly competitive buyer may lead you to lower your reservation price unnecessarily and reduce your expectations, generating worse outcomes for you and better outcomes for your opponent. However, the truth is that the bad news doesn’t even end there.

In a negotiation, the buyer may now view himself as a competitive negotiator, confirming your initial, if erroneous, belief. Your future talks will likely be with a competitive negotiator – one of your own making that will likely never be able to be reversed.

We are often advised to prepare for talks by considering the other party’s strengths and weaknesses. Additionally, you should also check and verify your assumptions during the negotiation itself so that self-fulfilling prophecies don’t ruin your negotiated outcome. Research shows that negotiators fall victim to a host of perceptual biases when assessing others. Therefore, be prepared to find out that the other side is very different than you expected them to be – and perhaps less competitive than you expected.

What All Of This Means For You

When we are preparing for a principled negotiation, we all know that we have to do our homework. We need to make sure that we understand the issues that are going to be discussed, the people that we will be negotiation with, and the challenges that we may be facing. However, it turns out that there is something else that we need to be aware of: any self-fulfilling prophecies that we will be bringing to the negotiations.

If you do bring any self-fulfilling prophecies about the other side’s behavior to the negotiation, then you’ll find that the other side conforms to your expectations. Research has been done that shows that if we are told how people are going to perform, then we’ll start to treat them that way. Negotiators will often reduce their demands when they believe that they are going to be up against more competitive negotiators. When the other side understands how you are viewing them, they can then become that type of negotiator. Prior to entering into a negotiation, you need to make sure that you verify your assumptions.

It’s entirely possible that the biggest challenge that you’ll be facing when you enter into your next negotiation will be your own self-fulfilling prophecies. If you understand that this is a challenge that you may be creating for yourself, then you need to take the time to determine what you’ll really be up against instead of just making assumptions.

– Dr. Jim Anderson Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Negotiating Skills™

Question For You: If during a negotiation you realize that you have brought self-fulfilling prophecies, what can you do?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

When you use your negotiation styles and negotiating techniques to enter into a negotiation, just exactly how much do you know about the other side? What you probably have are a number of assumptions that are going to be boosted by the first impressions that the other side makes when you meet them. A question that we should all be asking ourselves is if this is really the best way to go about preparing to negotiate? Could we be getting things wrong?