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How Decisions Get Sidetracked

The Daily Blog of the Harvard Law School Program on Negotiation reviewed a book about how our Decisions get Sidetracked. This is seen in divorce negotiations as well. Here is their interesting blog from March 24, 2016.

"In her new book, Sidetracked: Why Our Decisions Get Derailed, and How We Can Stick to the Plan (Harvard Business Review Press, 2013), Harvard Business School professor Francesca Gino shares a story that many negotiators will be able to relate to:

On a sunny day a few years ago, my husband and I found ourselves wandering the streets of the Gold Souk in the old part of Dubai, which both my sister, who was living in Dubai with her family at that time, and my travel guide had described as a "must see." A souk is an Arabian marketplace where you can buy a wide range of products, including fresh food, spices, handicrafts, and even gold.

Our plan for the afternoon was clear: Greg and I wanted to have an enjoyable day and buy something authentic that would help us to remember the experience vividly once we were back home. We went from one tiny, packed store to the next, passing many shops with glistening gold on display. It took us little time to notice that amid the traditional shops lining the souk's enchanted streets were other shops filled with fake designer handbags and knockoff designer clothing. Vendors ran after us, hawking "Nike" shoes, "Versace" T-shirts, "Louis Vuitton" bags, "Prada" wallets, and "Ray-Ban" sunglasses -all of them at bargain prices, and all of them closely resembling the authentic products we were familiar with from home.

One vendor was particularly persistent. He convinced Greg to follow him to the back of his store, where the two spent almost an hour haggling over "Rolex" and "Panerai" watches- identical copies of the real thing. Greg thought a fancy watch would make him look and feel good, and he doubted any of his friends or colleagues would be able to tell the difference.

After quite a bit of negotiating, he was ready to make a purchase. He had chosen a copy of a Panerai Luminor Power Reserve men's watch, which typically sells for about $7,000 in the United States. Greg bought his perfect (in his mind) replica for just over $100.

His euphoria over getting such a good deal was short-lived. By the time we got back to our car, Greg said he couldn't help but feel a bit fake while wearing the watch. Ironically, this sensation-feeling inauthentic-was exactly the opposite of his initial plan: having an authentic experience at the souk.

As Gino writes in Sidetracked, negotiators and other decision makers often find themselves diverging from their carefully developed plans. You might plan to be assertive in a job negotiation, but leave without asking for a higher salary. You might get so wrapped up in meeting your own needs that you neglect to address your counterpart's, sending the negotiation off the rails. Similarly, you might overlook how aspects of the environment are influencing your behavior and that of others.

Caught up in the heat of the moment, negotiators often fail to follow through on their intentions. Through her research, Gino has identified three sets of forces that influence our decisions in ways we fail to anticipate: (1) forces from within ourselves, (2) forces from our relationships with others, and (3) forces from the outside world.

These forces can affect us independently, but perhaps more often, multiple forces can conspire against us through the course of a negotiation. In Greg's case, for example, forces from within caused him to believe that wearing an expensive-looking watch would make him feel good - a prediction that proved to be shortsighted. Forces from his relationships caused him to aspire to increase his sense of status relative to others. And forces from the outside world, namely "the heady atmosphere of the souk," as Gino writes, appear to have distracted him from his goal of having an authentic experience."

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