Information Processing Theory – Become a Better Negotiator

information processing theoryWho would you rather have sitting across from you at a negotiating table – a top corporate lawyer or an online game maker? Your odds will be better if you choose the corporate lawyer. Today, game makers, computer scientists and economists spend a lot of time studying game theory and how players in a game process information. Game makers understand information processing, and the negotiation process is all about information processing. If you are sitting at a negotiating table, you will want to have the same strategic advantage – that is, an understanding of information processing theory in the negotiating process. In an process, a lot of intelligence can be gleaned by how someone reacts to information.

Successful negotiators start thinking about the motivation, cognition and information processing of their opponents before negotiations start. In the Negotiation process, it is important to understand modes of thinking and preparatory tactics. Inexperienced negotiators react as information is presented. Experienced negotiators watch their opponents to see how they react to information, and the timing of the reaction. The next time you are in negotiations, consider how information is being processed and used throughout the process. In other words, think like a game designer. Game designers use information processing theory to anticipate every move of a potential player. This training makes them unmatched at a negotiating table.

The New Negotiators

Imagine you are sitting across the negotiating table from a bunch of young Turks – that is, recent university graduates who are well-schooled in information processing. In computer science, they learn how computer users will interact with information. In economics, students need to understand how markets and consumers will behave in response to information. Cognitive psychology has become one of the most effective treatments across a broad range of mental disorders due to our advanced knowledge of how the brain processes information, and how we respond to it on a cognitive and emotional level.

The information age has made information processing an indispensable skill. Cognitive psychologists recognize that our brains operate like a computer and process the information we perceive through our senses. Processing information is the main cog in our development and maturation. As our brains develop, our information processing abilities improve in terms of our ability to perceive, analyse, store and retrieve information. Far from being a worn out old theory, information processing theory is applied to all areas of life and business today.

To succeed in negotiations today, you need to think more about how your opponent thinks. Information processing has long been a cornerstone of negotiating theory but it remained in the textbooks. Today, business people apply it every day.

Negotiations and Information Processing

Chinese researchers have found that negotiating styles that consider information processing theory are more successful.[1] Traditional negotiating approaches emphasize the motivation and thinking (cognition) of the negotiating parties. If you know what motivates your opponents, then you have an advantage; and you know which carrots to dangle in front of them. The next step is applying motivation information processing (MIP), which considers how these negotiating elements affect the information processing of the negotiators. For example, the preferences for different outcomes of the players and their quest for knowledge affect how information will be processed. The Chinese researchers say a more in-depth understanding of information processes and mechanisms can improve your choice of negotiating strategies.

Message Delivery and Persuasiveness

Information processing theory also shows us that how we deliver information can affect our persuasiveness. Information intensity affects the impact, credibility, and emotional impact, and thus persuasiveness, of a message. When University of Connecticut researchers added emoticons to invitations to a charitable event, they received more positive responses.   When a message’s intensity is changed, the four-step process of information processing is activated.

Let’s analyse the four steps of information processing through your opponent’s eyes.

  • Thinking: Can you see your opponent’s thinking process. He is perceiving the offer you have made him. The offer is being encoded in his brain and stored as data. You may mistake this silent step for agreement. If he is a shrewd negotiator, he will not react quickly or show emotion. If he shows a quick emotional response, he has revealed his hand to you.
  • Analysis of stimuli: Your opponent is now analyzing the information and interpreting it in order to make a decision. You can bias this process by how you frame the information. You can discern a lot about how he has perceived the information by how he responds to it. At this stage, he is strategizing. If you pick up messages that his thinking is not moving in your favour,you can try to influence his thinking.
  • Situational modification: In this stage you have even more influence. Your interlocutor’s stored information on past experiences in similar situations is influencing how he will perceive and respond to this situation. This stage can be flooded with biases and assumptions. Gentle strategic probing at this stage can help you deduce what his biases are. Your opponent will be actively manipulating his stored information (consciously and subconsciously) to bring about his desired outcome.
  • Obstacle evaluation: Any obstacles or challenges will emerge at this point. They may be influenced by irrational thinking and influenced by the biases in stage 3. Like stage 3, this is a highly sensitive and influential stage. Consider that a solution to the challenge may be prevented by the opponent’s problem-solving and cognitive abilities. He thus considers it a challenge and roadblock. When information is complex, a negotiator will take the easiest path. The opponent may be confused or stymied by information. These scenarios all present opportunities to the perceptive negotiator.

Brush up on your negotiating skills applying information processing theory. The Significant Negotiator – Negotiation Skills will help you become more confident in negotiations, build long-term relationships not adversaries and maximize outcomes. You will become more effective in daily negotiating situations as you change your negotiation mind-set, including How to Negotiate Salary.

Make a list of information processing intelligence you gather from your next round of negotiations. Also consider ways you can add more emotional language and specifics to your negotiation language to be more persuasive.

[1] Fei, Y. E. (2013). A Review of Motivated Information Processing Theory in Negotiation. Journal of Suzhou College of Education, 2, 030.