The Framing Effect Bias: Use It to Your Advantage

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Never Split the Difference" by Chris Voss and Tahl Raz. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What is the framing effect bias? How does the way a piece of information is presented influence decision-making?

The framing effect bias is a cognitive bias where people make a choice or decision based on how the options are presented to them. The same option can seem more or less attractive depending on what aspects are highlighted.

Keep reading to learn about the framing effect bias and how you can use it to your advantage.

What Is the Framing Effect Bias?

Just as you want to position yourself as being a fair and reasonable counterpart, you also want to frame your position such that it satisfies their deeper, truer need. What are the emotional drivers behind what your counterpart really values? What do they want, what are they afraid of? Answering these questions requires looking under the surface. 

The products and services we purchase are often about satisfying some deeper, more intrinsic need. When a couple hires a babysitter, what they’re really buying isn’t childcare: it’s a fun, stress-free night out as adults. 

Makers of luxury products like sports cars and jewelry understand this principle very well: they make exclusivity and rarity the focus of their advertising campaigns, because they know that their customers are largely driven by the need to assert their status through owning and displaying these products. 

Loss Aversion

We evaluate risks and rewards largely based on how they’re presented to us. If you’ll recall, this is known as the framing effect bias.  One of the most powerful manifestations of the framing effect bias is loss aversion. In short, people are motivated more by fear of loss than hope of equal gain. 

A related idea known as the certainty principle makes people more drawn to options that they perceive as being a sure thing than those they perceive as being risky.

Knowing this, you can put yourself in a strong negotiating position by framing your preferred solution as one that is safe, secure, and prevents your counterpart from incurring a loss.

We hear this from salespeople all the time when they say things like, “I just wanted to give you the opportunity to take advantage of this offer before it goes away.” This is why deadlines are so powerful: they create a sense of urgency that triggers your sense of loss aversion. When presented with the possibility of a loss, you’re no longer thinking of gaining something: you’re thinking about losing out on a deal. 

When you’re trying to trigger loss aversion in your counterpart, you want them to think of the glass being half-empty rather than half-full.

The Framing Effect Bias and Negotiation

Here’s how you can use your knowledge of the framing effect bias to lead your counterpart toward the conclusion you want.

1. Anchor their emotions through an accusation audit that acknowledges all of their fears. By preparing them for a loss, you’ll trigger their loss aversion and make them work hard just to avoid it. This also helps frame your offer as being better than worse alternatives. 

  • Even something as seemingly innocuous as prefacing a criticism with “You might hate me for saying this, but…” is an accusation audit. You’re priming the other person for an unpleasant experience. To avoid this experience, they’ll start convincing themselves that what you’re telling them isn’t actually that bad: loss aversion at work.

2. Let the other side go first. You don’t know enough about what you’re buying or selling to make an informed offer right away, so use their offer as a starting point. 

  • But remember that your counterpart might try to use this to their advantage by throwing out an extreme first offer to use framing effects against you (like asking $600 for a $200 iPhone, so that when you split the difference, a $400 counter looks “reasonable”). Don’t lose your cool if they do this. We’ll cover how to deal with this later when we talk about how to take a (figurative) punch in negotiations and how to deflect and punch back.

3. If you’re negotiating something with a monetary value, establish a range. Base it on historical examples or what the figures in comparable deals look like. Be sure to use a bolstering range (where the low number is actually what you’d want). 

  • For example, if you’re negotiating a salary at a new job, you could say, “At X Company, this position pays between $170,000 and $200,000,” when $170,000 is actually your goal.

4. Be open to non-monetary terms like recognition and perks. These are often small add-ins that cost your counterpart nothing but can make all the difference to you. 

  • The author mentions receiving a lowball offer from a prospective client, but agreeing to do the deal because the organization offered to put him on the cover of their magazine. This was a cost-free throw-in for the client (they needed to have someone on the cover), but made all the difference to the author: the free publicity was highly valuable for his consulting business.

5. Use odd numbers. Psychologically, an odd number sounds like a product of precise calculation, even if it’s completely arbitrary. Your counterpart is far more likely to take a number like $41,972.37 seriously than $40,000 (which sounds like a placeholder or just a negotiating platform).

6. Surprise your counterpart with a gift. This can be a simple conciliatory gesture that costs you little. This engenders goodwill and triggers their natural emotional need for empathy and reciprocity. People feel the need to repay kindness with kindness.

The Framing Effect Bias: Use It to Your Advantage

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Here's what you'll find in our full Never Split the Difference summary :

  • Lessons learned from years as an FBI hostage negotiator
  • Why negotiation is about emotional appeals, not rational ones
  • The 5 methods for tactical empathy, which gets you what you want by focusing on the other person's feelings

Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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