Summary of "Persuasion in Negotiations and Conflict Situations"

Summary of

Persuasion in Negotiations and Conflict Situations

by Shelly L. Chaiken, Deborah H. Gruenfeld, and Charles M. Judd

Summary written by: Conflict Research Consortium Staff

Citation: "Persuasion in Negotiations and Conflict Situations". In Deutsch, Morton and Peter T. Coleman, eds. The Handbook of Conflict Resolution: Theory and Practice. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 2000. 144-165.

The authors offer an overview of persuasion theory, directed toward negotiators. Persuasion is defined as "the principles and processes by which people's attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors are formed, are modified, or resist change in the face of others' attempt at influence." (144) To better understand these principles and processes, the authors employ a dual-process model of information processing, which combines aspects of both systemic and heuristic models. They hope that a better understanding of persuasion will improve negotiators' competence and success.

Systemic processing involves thinking deeply about information, examining its background reasoning or causes, searching for further information, and formulating subsequent attitudes and behaviors in light of the information. It takes significant time and mental effort, and so requires an able and motivated subject.

In contrast, heuristic processing is more nearly automatic. Heuristic thinkers focus on relevant cues, and automatically apply simple rules (heuristics) to evaluate information. Cues include such elements as the speaker's credibility or the number of supporting arguments. Rules include "experts' statements are trustworthy" and "argument length implies argument strength." (147) Heuristic processing is quick and requires little effort.

Both types of processing can be valid, or can be fallible. Heuristics rules may be well grounded in experience, and allow for effective decision-making in a complex, fast-paced environment. Yet they will yield poor judgements in cases which deviate from prior experience. Some heuristics are little more than bias or prejudice.

Systemic processing can yield more depth of understanding and be more responsive to the particular situation. Systematic processing yields less overconfidence, less bias, more tolerance for alternative viewpoints, and deeper and more lasting cognitive changes. Research has also associated systematic processing with improved performance in-group problem-solving, identifying integrative solutions, facilitating political compromise and avoiding war. However, systematic processing may serve to reinforce existing bias, as people tend to select, remember and more positively evaluate information that agrees with their existing attitudes.

Unbiased, systemic processing is more likely to be used when people need very accurate judgements. People who are primarily defensive, or who are trying to make a specific impression on another, typically use heuristic processing or biased forms of systematic processing.

Persuasion plays a crucial role in successful conflict resolution. The authors explain, "negotiated settlements most typically fall apart if the parties to the settlement do not truly believe that it is in their self-interest. For a negotiated settlement to stand the test of time, both parties have to be persuaded that the settlement is in some sense optimal." (157) Negotiators will be more persuasive if they understand which type of information processing is predominates at each particular stage of negotiations, and if they formulate their persuasive appeals in light of that understanding.

Early in negotiations, parties tend to be dominated by impression and defense motives. Heuristic processing predominates and systematic thinking tends to be skewed toward reinforcing existing attitudes. Persuasion is unlikely, since these forms of information processing tend to reinforce existing attitudes and habitual way of thinking.

Unbiased, systematic processing is more conducive to persuasion and creative problem-solving. The authors suggest two approaches to changing parties' modes of information processing toward unbiased systematic processes. The first is to decrease the parties' impression and defense motives and increase accuracy motivation. This can be done by acting in ways that explicitly violate the other party's heuristic expectation of self-interested action: making concessions, focusing on the other party's interests and gains. A direct way to increase parties' accuracy motivation is to focus interests rather than positions.

Second, parties can facilitate a shift toward a more open, information seeking process by asking questions rather than making assertions. This constitutes a direct shift to information-seeking on the part of the questioner. Answering questions often causes parties to think more systematically about their own interests and goals. In addition, questions may be targeted to elicit information that disconfirms heuristic norms, and hence encourage a shift toward systematic thinking.