Mind Reading

How can we more accurately ‘read the minds’ of the people with whom we negotiate, to achieve better outcomes?

Nicholas Epley, professor of psychology at the Booth School of Business, University of Chicago, has published a book, Mindwise – How We Understand What Others Think, Believe, Feel, and Want.

Important stuff if we’re negotiating. When we’re planning negotiating strategies with our clients or their attorneys, we will probably try to ‘read their  minds’ – anticipate their thoughts, beliefs, feelings, and wants and attempt to predict how they might react to various ‘offers’  or tactics.

Not as easy as it seems.

Epley describes experiments with married couples, each partner attempting to predict the other’s answers to questions about themselves. 44% of the time, the partners accurately predicted their spouses’ answers. However, they believed they were right 82% of the time. By a 2:1 margin, they were incorrect.

In other words, we are likely to be SIGNIFICANTLY OVERCONFIDENT that we can ‘read our negotiating partner’s minds’ …. the odds of our being correct are EXTREMELY low.

What to do?

Epley’s conclusion: “The relatively slow work of getting a person’s perspective is the way you understand them accurately….”

i.e. Ask questions… lots of questions… about their goals, preferences, values, priorities, needs, wants, dreams, far beyond the task at hand.  Draw them out, beginning early in the sales and negotiating process. Listen carefully to their answers. Observe the decisions they make. Then, develop negotiating strategies based on that direct evidence.  No more mind-reading!

Nick Miller is president of Clarity Advantage, Concord, Mass., a firm that helps banks generate more profitable relationships faster with small- and medium-sized companies, their owners, and employees. He can be reached at nickmiller@clarityadvantage.com.

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