Psychological Influence in Negotiation: An Introduction Long Overdue

by Deepak Malhotra & Max H. Bazerman

Overview — This paper attempts to encourage a better dialogue between research on social influence and on negotiation. It provides an overview of the literature on both areas, and identifies opportunities for creating more effective and useful research. First, HBS professors Deepak Malhotra and Max Bazerman identify those elements of psychological influence that do not require the influencer to change the economic or structural aspects of the bargaining situation in order to persuade the target. Second, they review prior research on behavioral decision-making in negotiation to identify those ideas that may be relevant to influence in negotiation. Third, they provide a framework for thinking about how to leverage behavioral decision research to wield influence in negotiation. Fourth, they consider how targets of influence might defend against these tactics. Fifth, because psychological influence is, by definition, aimed at achieving one's own ends through the strategic manipulation of another's judgment, they consider the ethical issues surrounding its application in negotiation. Key concepts include:

  • A broader research field of negotiation is needed, one that more closely matches real-world views of what negotiation entails.
  • This paper conceptualizes and organizes a new domain of academic inquiry—psychological influence in negotiation—contrasting it with literature on social influence.
  • The last 50 years of research on social influence has focused largely on economic and structural elements of influence. However, psychological influence is an interesting and important domain of study in its own right, and is very relevant to the field of negotiation research.

Author Abstract

This paper discusses the causes and consequences of the (surprisingly) limited extent to which social influence research has penetrated the field of negotiation, and then presents a framework for bridging the gap between these two literatures. The paper notes that one of the reasons for its limited impact on negotiation research is that extant research on social influence focuses almost exclusively on economic or structural levers of influence. With this in mind, the paper seeks to achieve five objectives: (1) Define the domain of psychological influence as consisting of those tactics which do not require the influencer to change the economic or structural aspects of the bargaining situation in order to persuade the target; (2) Review prior research on behavioral decision making to identify ideas that may be relevant to the domain of psychological influence; (3) Provide a series of examples of how behavioral decision research can be leveraged to create psychological influence tactics for use in negotiation; (4) Consider the other side of influence, i.e., how targets of influence might defend against the tactics herein considered; and (5) Consider some of the ethical issues surrounding the use of psychological influence in negotiation.

Paper Information