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Alternative Dispute Resolution

The Small Big: Small Changes That Spark Big Influence

Written by Steve J. Martin, Noah J. Goldstein and Robert B. Cialdini

Reviewed  by Richard Birke

Nothing is more important to negotiation success than getting the other side to say yes.  The formal study of this critical aspect of negotiation is called “persuasion science,” and no expert is more accomplished or recognized in this endeavor than Robert Cialdini, professor emeritus of psychology at Arizona State University.

Influence described six principles that accounted for the vast percentage of successful attempts to persuade.  These principles, briefly, are as follows:

Reciprocation of Concessions:  People feel obliged to reciprocate for acts of goodwill, even if the act produces no value and was not requested or wanted.

Authority:  Perceived authority causes changes in decision-making, even when the authority is more imagined than real.

Scarcity or Deadlines:  Fleeting offers or disappearing commodities seem more valuable than if they were plentiful or available on request.

Social Proof:  If a choice appears to be endorsed by a large number of strangers, a negotiator is likely make the same choice.

Liking:  People say yes more to people they like.

Commitment and Consistency:  People tend to stay consistent with prior commitments they have made, even if those commitments were made without any deliberation.

The stories and lessons from Influence are entertaining, important and fairly short.  One quick read will demonstrate clearly why this book is so well-regarded. Each example forms the basis for a chapter in the book, and for the reader with limited time, the book is perfect.  It really lives up to its title—small chapters with BIG lessons.

Here are two of my favorite tips and lessons from The Small Big, even further shortened:

Simply adding the phrase “the majority of people in your postal code pay their taxes on time” resulted in the British government’s hiking its collection rate of delinquent taxes from 57 percent to 86 percent.  The cost of the change was practically zero (the biggest part was probably Cialdini’s fee), and the net increase was 270 million pounds annually.  This is an application of the principle of social proof, and the chapter offers clear advice for anyone seeking to collect on monies owed.

Requesting that a patient write down their own appointment information (rather than having the receptionist do it) resulted in an 18 percent reduction in the number of people who failed to show up for their next appointment.  In a demonstration of the principle of commitment and consistency, the authors teach us how to prevent missed appointments from creating large costs.  The estimate of the cost of missed appointments in the U.K. is more than a billion dollars a year.  This small change saves a nation $180 million and offers a lesson for any lawyer, restaurant or businessperson who suffers when someone blows off a meeting or appointment.

There are so many more great stories and lessons that anyone interested in negotiating their way to a yes really owes it to themselves and their clients to read The Small Big.  It will surely point to some small ways for you to make a big difference in the success of your negotiations.


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