On a flight from Glasgow on a cold November night I came across an article in the in-flight magazine about how to make more effective use of persuasion to get what we want out of life, business and family relationships.
Warming advice indeed. The basic premise is that it is much more powerful to surround our persuasion with strong rationale in order to get people to do what we want them to do.
The article was based on research performed by Harvard psychologists in the 1970s which sought to answer the basic question on what would be the best way to persuade someone to allow us to queue-jump?
The studies revealed some interesting insight. Just pushing in was understandably disastrous. Asking the person in front of you for permission was much more successful. In 60% of situations a simple request was effective. Adding a rationale to the request was yet more successful, in fact it was 50% more effective than a request alone.
Moreover in this study it did not seem to matter what the rationale was.
Ellen Langer, the psychologist responsible for the study, made the somewhat startling revelation that the reason behind the rationale was almost irrelevant in improving the efficacy of simply adding a reason. It appeared that the brain of the person being asked to give up their place switched off once the 'because' was heard.
Simple and pragmatic advice for the negotiator. Adding a rationale to the reason why we may need something during a negotiation may indeed generate improved success. It may also allow the other side to find more advantageous ways of giving us what we want or need. For the professional negotiating specialist, understanding clearly what the other side is looking for is a crucial part of the process.
However, it will not always work.
The strike by UK public sector workers on Wednesday of this week was not caused by a lack of understanding of what either side needed to achieve. The government wants to reduce the massive budget deficit; the union wants to protect their members in retirement. The rationale for both sides is utterly clear.
The failure of agreement is not based on rationale, it is based on conflict. Resolving conflict is when negotiation comes into its own.