What You See Is All There Is: How to Notice More



  • Noticing is very important in negotiations. By design, in negotiation there are many omissions, and unless we ask, we won't know. Noticing allows us to know precisely what to ask and when to increase the quality of our negotiation analysis.
  • By design we, humans, are very bad at noticing, as we tend to form impressions quickly and ignore any contradictory information afterwards. Our minds strive for simplicity and coherence of the narratives.
  • Simple steps to increase our ability to notice: 
    • Look at the situation from "their" perspective.
    • Once in their shoes, ask "why not".
    • Think in terms of alternatives.
    • Unbundle narratives.
    • Be aware of who has informational advantage.



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Hi all, this is Mikael Krapivin with Inside Negotiator's Lab weekly series. Today we shall talk about noticing, why it is so important in negotiations to notice more, why we, humans, are so bad at noticing, and, of course, how to notice better.

A while ago I was retained by my client, a global organisation, to have a very complex dialogue with their employee. This employee violated information security policy of the company. Control systems of the client detected that the employee transferred quite sensitive information to a personal email account. The client needed to contain the situation, which, in practice, meant that I had to convince the employee to delete this information in my presence and to demonstrate that this information was not transferred further to third parties. We also needed to ascertain that no copies of the files were made. The conversation went quite smoothly. Nothing dramatic happened, although in my experience such conversations are often akin to hostage negotiations. The employee just wanted to work on these files at home to increase own professional competence level.  After everything was deleted, I asked the employee to prepare a written affidavit. But as I read the text, I realized that we may have an issue. The employee routinely used active voice. “I accessed the information, I didn’t mean anything wrong, I deleted it in the presence…”. But not for the point related to copies. ‘No copies were made…’ Passive voice. Just in this single place. Now, There may be multiple explanations, of course, but this is a text-book red-flag (as a change of pronouns usage is). We have resolved this issue amicably, for we knew now that this had to be addressed separately. But I kept thinking how easy it was to miss this tiny piece of behavioural information.



Noticing is extremely important in negotiations and in critical conversations like the one I had above. Negotiation is information game, and the way this game is designed - there are multiple incentives to omit and mislead.  While deliberate lies are a separate domain, omissions are considered by many negotiators a fair game. In other words, unless we ask a direct question, we will not obtain this information from the other side. And we have to know what and when to ask. To do this, we have to pay attention to the behavioral details like the one above.



Unfortunately, we are hardwired by evolution to miss them. Consider the following pictures: