How Priming Can Make You Better at Negotiation


Our new research paper looks at the work of Dr. Daniel Kahneman, who won the Nobel Prize for Economics, despite being a psychologist, not an economist!

He won the prize for showing that humans do not behave rationally in an economic sense when we make decisions. That blew big holes in many economic models and theories, which assumed consumers always behaved logically. We have looked at his ideas and thought about how they impact negotiation and produced this paper, titled “New Approaches to Procurement Negotiation – Dr Daniel Kahneman and Behavioural Psychology Suggest Some Winning Techniques.You can download it here, free on registration.

In our paper, we look at a brief background to Kahneman’s work and his ideas on intuitive versus effortful thinking – what Khaneman refers to as System 1 and System 2 – then we get into 3 concepts that are areas of interest to negotiators – priming, anchoring and risk. Here is an extract concerning the concept of priming.


The formal definition is this: “Priming is an implicit memory effect in which exposure to one stimulus influences a response to another stimulus.”

It suggests that we are influenced by everything around us, consciously and sub-consciously, and this has an effect on our thinking and ability to carry out rational decision-making. It has implications for many procurement activities, from negotiation to tender evaluation and supplier selection.

If I show you a card with the word EAT on it, then ask you to fill in the missing letter here;  S O _ P, you are more likely to say “SOUP” than “SOAP.”  If I show you “WASH” initially, the opposite is true. That is priming – the idea of EAT primes the idea of SOUP. It is an incredibly and almost unbelievably powerful effect, not limited to words; it applies to actions and emotions too.  

Priming can actually change the way we behave quite dramatically. Voters in Arizona were more likely to vote in favor of more funds for schools when their polling station was in a school. And people primed with images related to money (even just through a screen saver with pictures of floating dollar bills) behaved in a more selfish manner in an immediately subsequent experiment.

Priming even works when we’re not consciously aware we have seen or heard something. Anyone who has seen Derren Brown’s amazing “tricks will have seen priming at work. He can apparently read the minds of his audience “victims,” but much is achieved by clever priming through words or images. And often the subject doesn’t even realize they have been primed before coming on stage.

This is all caused by our System 1 thinking, looking to construct shortcuts and easy ways of operating.  We are very susceptible to being pushed into thinking or feeling in a certain manner, so how might that play into negotiations?

Download the paper here to find out how priming might help or hinder our performance in negotiations.

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