The Surprising Danger of Consistency

Who made the first main statement in your last negotiation, and how did they make it? Consider both a major negotiation between your organisation and another, and a minor situation of interpersonal influencing within the family. 

In either context, how a first statement is made will most likely have a major impact on the outcome.

Psychologists have long recognised the power of what is called ‘the consistency principle’. What this means is that we all have a strong drive to be consistent with what we have already done or said.

Once we have made a choice or taken a stand, we encounter strong personal and interpersonal pressures to behave consistently with that commitment.

Avoid the Unintentional Lock-In

How many times have we as negotiators or mediators been puzzled at the way others seem to lock themselves into positions that no longer seem tenable?

It helps when we understand the drive for consistency is very powerful. It also helps to appreciate that it is empowered even further if there is any suggestion of possible loss of esteem (face). This is particularly so when pronouncements are made to a wide public audience.

What the consistency principle does is lock the individual into a state of mind consistent with their stated positions. As competent negotiators, if we then link this to our understanding of the importance of developing the common ground, we have built a powerful approach for influencing the other party.

Understand the Dangerous Drive for Consistency

Of course, you might say all this drive to be consistent is only for the other party – not for us. We always remain flexible, option seeking negotiators.

Or do we?

Confession time: have you ever caught yourself locked in by the consistency principle long past the time you recognize the weakness of your position?

Tell me…

Tips on Using the Consistency Principle

Our ENS  experience is that by gradually building a case based upon an early commitment made by the other party, the application of the consistency principle can deliver surprising and significant results.

Some points to consider:

  • Carefully note the other party’s statement of position
  • Don’t attack that statement – so doing may well cause the consistency principle lock-in
  • Rather, carefully link their statement of position to other issues of importance for your case
  • Then, using ENSI negotiation process management, build common ground and gently steer the negotiation towards the outcome you are seeking.

To discuss this article in more depth and explore developing your negotiation capabilities, please contact us via email or call +612 9299 9688.

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