Often, fear can be a significant motivating factor in negotiations. People fear the unknown; they fear losing; they fear having a large verdict. All of these fears can help the parties to have realistic expectations of the negotiation. Indeed, often when a party does not fear the future result, such lack of fear can be a recipe for a failed negotiation.
Recently, however, researchers have discovered that there are other things that people fear that is beyond what is normally expected. Researchers have discovered that people are often motivated by fear of regret. The concept is often called “anticipatory regret.” In four separate studies researchers tested whether and how anticipatory regret affected things like escalating a position or commitment to a position. The researchers found that people desire to minimize future regret and that such a desire significantly motivated the decisions they made in escalating situations.
Other researchers have found that past regret over a decision will also affect the decision in the future and the commitment to such a choice. This research demonstrates that when people persist in a failing course of action, their decisions are formed by what considering what happened in the past and what they fear could happen in the future. One of those future fears is the fear of future emotional pain.
There are several ways this “anticipatory regret” research can be applied in negotiations. First, when preparing for mediation, you should try to consider what a person may regret in the future and what value that might have on someone. The more value that a choice may have, the more that a person may regret it, and conversely, the less the value of the choice, the less they would regret it.
Second, think about how you can best use anticipatory regret to your advantage. NBC game show Deal or No Deal plays on the issue of anticipatory regret. It shows the participants what they could get. By knowing whether the participants have a possible $1,000,000 case or a $1 case substantially affects their decision. They are, in part, motivated by future regret: Regret, that they might end up with the case that is $1, regret that they didn’t strive to get the million, and then regret that they may go home with no “real money” in pocket. It is no coincidence that for several years that the game show has been in existence, no one has won the million dollars until recently.
Lawsuits are similar to the game show. The parties can be faced with anticipatory regret on many levels. Will they do better at trial? Will they be exposed to any risk by going to trial? Will they have given up their one chance to be heard? By thinking about these options further before negotiating, you can be better prepared to respond to issues of anticipatory regret and to persuade the other side to pay more attention to your position by using the concept of anticipatory regret.
Further, you can then prepare your offers to best take advantage of the other person’s anticipatory regret.
Wong, K.F.E & Kwong, J.Y.Y, The Role of anticipated regret in escalation commitment, Journal of applied Pyschology 92(2) 545-554