"Psychology and Persuasion"

Posted By Brenden Blake, Nov 30, 2011

Individuals who regularly negotiate will surely run across an opposing party who absolutely refuses to be persuaded by their proposal, regardless of it’s merits or logic. In a book chapter entitled “Psychology and Persuasion,” Professor Donna Shestowsky takes an interesting and informative look at how psychological research can be used to better understand and navigate difficult negotiation situations.

Psychological research has identified two different “routes” in which people process information- one in which individuals focus on the quality of the argument and one in which they do not. Determining which “route-to-persuasion” the opposing party is applying and how to best appeal to that “route” is a crucial skill for the effective negotiator.

These two “routes to persuasion” are 1) the “central” route and 2) the “peripheral” route. An individual who is using the “central” route will be more engaged in processing and evaluating the merit of the opposing parties proposal. This “route” is much more analytical and is concerned with the actual logistics of the proposal/argument. An individual engaging in the “peripheral” route, by contrast, will focus less on the actual merit and logic of opposing counsels arguments and instead will be more influenced by things that are more peripheral to the issue at hand, such as the physical attractiveness of the person trying to persuade them, or presentation or “packaging.”

It is very important for negotiators to realize that numerous factors can influence their negotiation partners to use either one of these two “routes”. It would be a mistake to assume that an opposing party will always operate in the same way based on immutable factors such as education or intelligence. Something as simple as not having gotten enough sleep, or being hungry, can have a huge effect on how the opposing party will process your arguments during negotiation, making even a savvy or intelligent negotiator more likely to use the “peripheral” route.

The Central Route to Persuasion:

Research has established that decision’s reached using the “central” route to persuasion are generally going to be more satisfying and beneficial to parties in the long run. However, It is important for negotiators to be aware that they only want to encourage this type of decision-making if they have something of true value to offer the opposing party.

Once you have determined you have something of value, the first great way to encourage this type of thinking is to discuss the issues in the negotiation as a joint problem-solving venture. This type of prompting will encourage the opposing party to look at the situation in a detailed and thoughtful way.

Next, it is important to reduce distractions during negotiations if you wish to encourage this type of analysis. A simple way to do this is to ensure that you will have a quiet, distraction free environment for the negotiation where the opposing party will feel calm and comfortable.

Finally, recommending open dialogue where all individuals are required to give in-put encourages individual responsibility and independent thinking among opposing parties. This can be a great way to solicit the “central” route to persuasion. When people are placed in a position of responsibility and the burden is placed on them to come up with creative and effective ways the attack the problem, they are much more likely to deeply analyze the arguments and proposals made by the other side.

The Peripheral Route of Persuasion:

Clearly, the “peripheral” route to decision making is far less attractive when negotiators are seeking a long lasting, sustained result. Individuals who use this route to persuasion often are influenced by superficial factors such as the clothing, appearance or job title of the opposing party. These negotiators also use mental short cuts and make decisions without closely analyzing the relevant facts and consequences of the opposing parties proposal.

Because this route to persuasion is less likely to result in a long lasting, sustained agreement it is only advisable to use in specific situations. Namely, those in which a short-term solution is all that is desired.

The easiest and most effective way to encourage this type of decision-making is through use of the “expertise heuristic”. A mental short cut used by those engaged in the peripheral route to persuasion. This mental short cut can essentially be summed up like this: people tend to defer to perceived authorities or experts when making decisions without thoughtful analysis. Therefore, it could be extremely useful to emphasize skill and knowledge in the area of negotiation in order to encourage this type of analysis by the opposing party.

Other tactics to encourage this type of analysis are: creating positive emotions in the opposing party. This can be done through offering drinks and food during negotiation, or having an attractive staff member conduct the negotiation.