Killer negotiator: The self-serving bias

A good negotiator wins the Deal for himself.

A Killer negotiator creates a Win-Win for both parties!

This is one of a series of posts on and this blog, targeted at the art of negotiation. Follow the links below for related posts.

1. Killer Negotiator 101: Everybody is a good Guy: LIfehack

Negotiation is an art more than a science. Why so? It indulges your creative side when you understand the other person and work with him. Only a true and Master Negotiator can assess the other person’s point of view and talk to him from the other side of the table.

Let us talk about a phenomenon which often takes us down. 

Break the self-serving bias

The self-serving bias can stand in the way of a negotiator or help him gain from it.

What is the Self-Serving bias, you ask? Let’s illustrate.

In a psychology experiment, students in a university were asked to rate a professor as Grumpy or friendly within 30 seconds of him entering his first class and greeting them. These students were again asked to rate this professor after a week of attending his class and broadly the impressions remained the same. Those students who rated him to be flexible and friendly still backed up their judgments and those who thought he would be grumpy and serious also stood by that.

There is a phenomenon called “self-serving bias,” whereby we tend to judge a person or a situation at first and tend to hold on to our judgments very strongly unless something highly contradicting happens. As a negotiator, you need to understand this.

In all this, we often miss out on the many different cues the person is giving us to prove us wrong, and only see what we already think is true. 

The professor in the above experiment was not particularly grumpy or friendly. 

Those students who rated them as grumpy saw his angry moments and thought “Aha-I was right!!”,  while those who initially thought he will be friendly saw the ones which made him look friendly as decisive moments.


Example of Errors of the negotiator

Let’s see how this affects us in real life:

Case 1: Alfred is recently promoted and is in the client office with a proposal.

He enters a boardroom and starts the presentation. The initial reaction is that of neglect from a certain prominent board member. He senses that rejection and reciprocates that by fear of being rejected. Alfred is scared from the start!

Now, even if that board member is interested in listening to him later, his inherent fear sees rejection in him. The fear begins to go deep. Even when the board members ask normal questions to assess the feasibility of his proposal, he feels they are trying to corner him. He feels threatened.

He becomes nervous and tries to push too hard, but fails.

Case 2: Amanda is ten years in this company and extremely thorough in her job. She is extremely confident and is also here to present the same proposal to the board.

The difference is, she knows she will get it sanctioned.

She enters the same board room with a lot of confidence but instantly senses the same disgust from the same board member. This time, she does not react with fear like Alfred. She reacts with arrogance!

She feels – ‘The board has no right to ridicule her proposals! In fact, they hardly have the intellect to understand it.’

She counteracts every negative comment made against her idea from every board member. Very soon there is a heated argument, and her ideas get rejected too.

Alfred and Amanda were two people from vastly different backgrounds and quite naturally with a big difference in their level of competence.

Although individually Alfred and Amanda suffered from lack of confidence and arrogance, there was another thing which brought them down. They were victims of Self-serving bias. 

Once they sensed rejection they could not get over it – every indication reminded them of rejection. And that tanked the great ideas they had about the project.

Action plan

The first step is to realize this:

  1. Your initial impression on someone may not be correct.
  2. Even if for some reason you have started off on the wrong foot, that’s not the end of the world. Simply by your attitude you can recover your impression again.
  3. Your technical competence comes later; your attitude is everything. It can make or break you.
  4. Be confident but not overconfident. Learn to accept rejections and work around them.
While you present a proposal or negotiate, even if the initial reaction is negative, stay on. Be confident and calm.

You will then truly you will focus on different things from now on and look out for subtle changes which will make you see how your client or audience is reacting to your arguments.

You will learn to look for clues which you can use to break into their psyche and plant a thought into them. Once you know how to do that, you are a master Negotiator.

This is one of a series of posts on Lifehack and my blog, targeted at the art of negotiation. Follow the links below for related posts.

1. Killer Negotiator 101: Everybody is a good Guy: LIfehack

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