How many times have you heard ‘A picture is worth a thousand words?’
Interestingly, it’s largely true in the negotiation world.
Remember the last time you bought a car and the salesperson offered you an extended warranty? I doubt he appealed to your analytical abilities by quoting you the statistics and research on the actual likelihood that it would save you more than you spent on it.
Instead, he probably painted a vivid picture for you of one major repair job. ‘Just one pricey mechanical breakdown,’ he might have said, ‘and you will have saved a ton of money. And of course, you also will have the security and peace of mind of knowing that it won’t break the bank.’
Our tendency to be unduly influenced by such visual, emotional and flashy language—essentially verbal pictures—and to be less influenced by dull, statistical evidence, is called ‘vividness bias.’
The result of this bias, as Harvard Business School Professor Max H. Bazerman notes in the school’s negotiation newsletter article, ‘What’s Really Relevant? The Role of Vivid Data in Negotiation,’ is that ‘negotiators often underweight the attributes of a decision that will have the greatest impact on their personal happiness.’
What did the car salesman fail to discuss?
According to Bazerman’s article, most manufacturers’ warranties significantly overlap with extended warranties. And, according to information discovered in a lawsuit against Nissan, only $131 of the typical $795 extended warranty actually covered repairs to the vehicle. The rest went to the dealer as profit ($555) or to Nissan to cover administrative costs ($109). That’s quite a profit margin.
So what should you do about this bias? Here are a few of Bazerman’s suggestions, along with some of my own thoughts.
1. Paint the picture.
Since we are more likely to remember and be influenced by vivid and colorful descriptions of matters, verbally paint the picture. Some-times, even literally paint the picture, using audio-visual elements to illustrate critical elements of the negotiation.
Also, avoid using excessively dry, boring language. Spice it up, but don’t overdo it. Then back up your visual images with actual evidence. And above all, don’t mislead—like the car salesman above.
If you’re dealing with sophisti-cated counterparts, your lost credibility will cost you in the end.
2. Focus on your goal.
Prepare and set your goal—to the extent you can—before you begin the direct contact element of the negotiation.
By preparing first and then remaining focused on your goal, you will minimize the extent to which you will be overly influenced by the other side’s vivid descriptions.
As Bazerman notes, ‘unprepared negotiators are far more susceptible than their prepared counterparts to the lure of vivid information.’ So when they paint the picture, evaluate its true relevance. Be especially wary of colorful analogies and emotional triggers.
3. Analyze the statistics behind the glitz.
When you see glitz or hear overly colorful language, research the standards and statistics behind it. Better yet, start by researching the standards and evidence underlying your negotiation issues.
Sometimes, you will find the colorful characterizations of issues will be supported. But other times, as with extended warranties, you will find that your counterpart will be using vivid language to try to distract you from the lack of supporting evidence.
4. Don’t sign right away.
Finally, take a break at the end and re-evaluate the ‘final’ deal relative to your initial goal. Take some time—even if it’s just overnight—to gather your analytical and logical thoughts. It will be time well-spent.
For instance, consider whether you wanted the extended warranty when you walked into the dealership. Did it make sense to you then?
Just knowing that you may be unduly influenced by vivid language and pictures will help inoculate you against their impact.
Admittedly, though, it’s tough. Companies spend billions of dollars on marketing and advertising to make their products and services appeal to us.
Often, they use vivid images and language to try to convince us to open up our pocketbooks. Our natural inclination is to believe this vivid information as it makes it appear more real to us.
For many, this is a very expensive inclination.
Published May 7, 2004 The Business Journal