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In an investigation conducted by Meyerowitz and Chaiken in which they distributed two sets of brochures with identical content to equivalent groups of patients in equivalent clinics - one set emphasising the gains related to breast self-examination (BSE) and the other set emphasising the losses associated with not performing BSE - there was a significant increase in positive BSE attitudes and behaviours amongst the group of patients who received the negatively framed brochures; a change that was still evident four months later.

Given our positive bias as humans we overwhelmingly expect good things to occur. Negative information is more persuasive as it does not confirm these positive expectations and therefore tends to jolt us out of our comfort zones. Furthermore, we also tend to more intensely examine information which does not confirm our expectations and to ascribe extra weight to such conflicting information during our decision-making process. We could best explain this by asking ourselves whether we would send our family to a doctor who is known to be exceptionally competent, but recently botched a tonsillectomy performed on our neighbour's child. The answer clearly will be no, given that negative information overwhelms positive information. We would expect the doctor looking after our family to be fully competent and not make mistakes.

Although frames can be used for positive reasons, they undoubtedly can also be used for negative, manipulative reasons. Negative, manipulative frames can be countered by:

Kelton Rhoads, 1997
Khanerman & Tversky, 1982
Kanouse & Hansen, 1972
Fiske, 1980; Smith & Petty, 1996

Dr David Venter is the Co-Founder of The Negotiation Academy and a Senior Consultant with the firm. He is the former Director General of the Department of Communication of the Republic of South Africa.

The Negotiation Academy - Europe (TNA-Europe) is a negotiation consulting and negotiation skills solution provider. Committed to delivering best practice based negotiation solutions, TNA-Europe collaborates with clients to instil an organisational negotiation capability With deep industry experience, global resources and a proven track record, TNA-Europe is ideally positioned to assist clients in achieving optimal results from negotiations across all functional areas:

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October 2004