largeAre you and your client susceptible to verbal slight of hand? If there are multiple issues on the table, might the other party try to draw your attention to one seemingly generous offer in order to obscure from your view the fact the proposals on the other issues just basically stink? Perhaps your opponent is trying to be a magician, drawing your attention to the circling verbal magic wand to distract you from what’s up his sleeve.

A good magician is a subtle, but powerful, influencer of decisions, according to a recent article in Science Daily. A group of researchers from Canada combined magic with the science of psychology to show how some factors sway the decisions we make. Though we may think we’re making a choice freely, the magician is manipulating what we see which affects how we decide.

Is Your Attention Being Drawn Elsewhere?

The study started with how magicians impact audiences in choosing a particular card without them being aware of the manipulation going on. “We found that people tend to choose options that are more salient or attention-grabbing, but they don’t know why they chose them,” says Jay Olson, lead author of a new study published in Consciousness and Cognition. He’s a graduate student in psychiatry at Montreal’s McGill University’s Raz Lab, which investigates psychological phenomena like attention and consciousness.

The research had two parts.

  1. Olson (a professional magician when he’s not pursuing his studies) approached 118 people on streets and university campuses. He asked each of them to choose a card by glancing at one as he flipped through a deck of playing cards. The process took less than a second, but Olson used a technique to make the “target card” more prominent than the others. About 98% of participants chose the target card. Nine in ten stated they had a free choice.
  2. Researchers made a much more simple computer-based version of this “riffle” by showing 26 images of cards sequentially on a screen. Participants were asked to silently choose a card and enter it after each of 28 different trials. Choice of the target card dropped to 30%. This might be higher than expected, but still far less than the results in first part. The difference may be the result of influence by the personality of the magician (as opposed to the non-personality of the computer), expectations created by the setup and pressure to quickly choose a card.

You can see a video of the card trick but first prepare yourself to be amazed.

Magical Negotiators

Magicians focus a choice for you without you even knowing it. Magical negotiators can do the same, so you and your client need to be wary of the other side’s presentation and how the offer and information are presented, and their context, because your opponent is trying to impact your client’s choice.

  • The verbal slight of hand may be a lowball offer or extreme demands.
  • Another possible diversionary tactic is anchoring. Anchoring is creating a reference point (or anchor) around which a negotiation is set. It often occurs in the first offer at the beginning of a negotiation. An example is a party who wants $10,000 but in anticipation of the other party trying to bargain him down will announce he’s willing to accept $15,000.
  • Misdirection can also take the form of the irate party (the bad cop) and his apparently well meaning, friendly attorney (the good cop).

If the other party is trying to play the magician, just sit back enjoy the show, stick to your plan and don’t fall for the verbal magic wand.