Do you believe you are rational when it comes to making decisions? Think again. Dr. Kamal K. Jain of IIM Indore says, cognitive biases such as ‘framing’ can influence decision making and can be exploited in negotiation.
What would you call a person who influenced your thinking without you even noticing this? A magician? No. A juggler? No. An illusionist? No. He/she is the one who uses a powerful behavioural technique known as framing. We may think that we are rational creatures and that we can make sound decisions based on all the available facts. But the reality is that we all have a slew of cognitive biases that can influence our thinking and one such powerful bias is known as framing.
Consider this story. An Indian King invited a famous astrologer to study his horoscope and predict his future. The learned astrologer studied the horoscope thoroughly and did his calculations. Finally, he gave his verdict. Raja,” he said. “All your relatives will die before you. You will burn their funeral pyres with your own hands.”
The King’s temper flared. He was very attached to his relatives and could not tolerate the thought of having to burn the bodies of his own family members. In a fit of fury, he pulled out his sword and struck down the astrologer dead.
A few days later another astrologer happened to visit the kingdom. He also studied the king’s horoscope and came to the same conclusions as the previous astrologer. But he said, “Raja,” “you have a very long life. All your relatives are very fortunate that you will be there to comfort and care for them in the dusk of their lives.”
This also meant that all his relatives would die, while the King was still alive and that he would have to burn their funeral pyres with his own hands. But the prediction that he would be there to look after them till the very end greatly pleased the King. The astrologer was richly rewarded.
Hersh Shefrin known for his pioneering work in behavioral finance observed, “The term frame dependence means that the way people behave depends on the way that their decision problems are framed.” It is a cognitive heuristic in which people tend to reach conclusions based on the ‘framework’ within which a situation is presented.
Framing an issue in negotiations means that you force your counterpart’s attention on a specific aspect of an issue and let him ignore other aspects of the issue.
Framing an issue in negotiations means that you force your counterpart’s attention on a specific aspect of an issue and let him ignore other aspects of the issue. In order to influence the thinking of their counterpart, negotiators often choose to exclude some aspects of an issue from the frame because these issues are irrelevant, or they might distract from the main point, or because they don’t advance negotiator’s interests. It therefore not only contains, but also constrains.
Aldert Vrij in his book ‘Detecting Lies and Deceit’ gives an interesting example on effects of framing. Participants in the experiment were shown a film of a traffic accident involving several cars. Among various questions about the accident, one particular question was differently framed for various groups.
In the question “How fast were the cars going when they contacted each other?” the verb ‘contacted’ was replaced by ‘hit’, ‘bumped’, ‘collided’ or ‘smashed’ for various groups. While the question with the verb ‘contacted’ elicited the lowest speed of 31 miles per hour, the verb ‘smashed’ got the response of highest speed of 41 miles per hour.
One week later, the participants were asked whether they had seen broken glass at the accident site. Although the correct answer was ‘no,’ 32% of the participants who got the ‘smashed’ verb in their question responded that they did see the broken glass. This shows that the framing of the question can even influence the memory of the incident.
Framing is thus a quality of communication that leads others to accept one meaning over another. The way a question is “framed” often has an influence on how people answer that question. For example, look at this classic story to see the power of framing:
Two novice monks go to meditate. While meditating one pulls up a pack of cigarettes, gets out a cigarette, lights it and starts to smoke. The other monk is in awe: “What are you doing? We are not allowed to smoke during meditation!”. “ But I am allowed. I have asked the head monk myself. And he allowed it.” Replied the smoking monk. “How is that possible? I asked him as well. And he forbid me.” Said the non-smoking monk intrigued. “What did you ask?” Inquired the smoking monk. “I asked if I could smoke when I’m meditating” Replied the monk. The smoking monk puffed his cigarette and replied with calm. “You see it all lies in how you ask the question. I asked if I could meditate while I’m smoking and the head Monk said ‘yes’.
To further understand the impact of framing, you may like to watch a recent ad of Mentos “Chintoo ke papa”.
Roger Dooley, the author of Brainfluence: 100 Ways to Persuade and Convince Consumers with Neuromarketing, wrote about the effects of using percentages versus real numbers. It’s the difference between saying: 90% of customers are satisfied with our service or saying 9 out of 10 customers are satisfied with our service. Real numbers tend to have a much stronger impact on people.
When we present “90%,” our brain is calculating, at a high speed the difference between 90 and 100, which, will be 10. Now, when we express “9 out of 10,” our brains will ‘see’ the number 1 as the final result. In this case, the “smaller” difference means “the large” majority is satisfied with our work. When you must present negative information, use percentages for a lesser impact. For example, “Only 1% of our products have a defect doesn’t sound nearly as bad as “1 out of every one hundred products have a defect”.
When you must present negative information, use percentages for a lesser impact.
Tversky and Kahneman, proponents of the Prospect Theory, argue that losses always loom larger than potential gains. The first priority is not to lose – humans are loss averse. Gains are secondary to not losing. Framing a decision in terms of possible loss motivates a person more strongly than framing it in terms of possible gain. Negotiating parties are more willing to grant concessions when an outcome is framed as a gain than when the economically identical outcome is framed as a loss.
Framing is a negotiation technique that can be used to win almost anything – a sale, a contract, an argument, extra apartment amenities or a pay raise. So next time when you go to your boss for a pay raise because you have another offer of a higher salary don’t say, advises Linda Babcock in the book ‘Women don’t ask”, “I have received an offer for Rs xxxxx more and I am going to quit if you don’t match the salary”.
Instead of using ‘quit frame’ try using a ‘stay frame’ which may look something like this, “Sir I like working for this company and I really enjoy working for you but I have an offer which is Rsxxxxx more than what I get here. I would certainly prefer to stay if you could match my salary.”
Now since you know the power of framing if you find someone using Bata pricing (Rs 999) realize that you have been framed.
Kamal K. Jain is a professor of Organizational Behaviour and Human Resource Management at Indian Institute of Management Indore. He can be reached at [email protected]
(First published in BW Business World dated 22nd March 2016. Republished with permission of the author. Image Source: Wikimedia)