Choking under pressure

Published: Sep 28 , 2015
Author: Jared Bamford

Being the only kiwi at Scotwork Australia and with the Rugby World cup now underway, I’ve been reminded that the All Blacks have a reputation of choking under pressure.

We have all witnessed professional sports people choke under pressure, however it doesn’t always happen on the world stage or in the sporting arena. It happens anywhere the stakes are high and we don’t want to fail… this includes during negotiations.

A recent study looked at what our brains do when we choke. The study involved 26 adults playing a video game while lying in a MRI scanner. They were told that they could win or lose money on each game. To up the ante, were told that they could win or lose it all on one random game.

The results differed between those who placed a high value on winning and those who had a fear of failure. The ones with a fear of failure, interestingly, choked when they were playing to win, whereas those who placed the greatest importance on winning crumbled when the game was to lose money. The study found that incentives and sanctions worked as a motivating factor to a point, but that if a person is too invested in the outcome then incentives and sanctions can actually have a debilitating effect.

What are lessons for negotiators? If there is understanding of where the other parties focus lies, for greatest effect consideration could be taken on how to frame incentives or sanctions. For instance “If we can agree on the terms and conditions, you stand to increase your business with us by $200/week” (incentive), “if we cannot agree on the terms and conditions then unfortunately I will not be able to provide you with the additional business of $200/week” (sanction).

To avoid “choking”, always try to strip emotion out of negotiations, furthermore, ensure you’re well prepared and rather than focusing on what’s at stake, concentrate on your strategy and deal with the facts in front of you.


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About the author:

Jared Bamford
Jared’s background is in sales and marketing, working in a range of industries including manufacturing, health and fitness, telecommunications and events.

Read more about Jared Bamford

More posts by Jared Bamford

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The Australian Banking Royal Commission has been quite embarrassing with cover-ups, poor conduct and unethical treatment of customers. But it does bring to light key lessons for negotiators. These lessons are particularly true for those who are perceived to hold the balance of power. In other words, if you are negotiating with someone who is seen to have very little power - there is a high chance your actions will come under public scrutiny at some point. It is highly unlikely the banking industry will be the only one to come under scrutiny. All you need to do to come to this conclusion is read the paper to see similar accusations in industries like retail/grocery buying, leasing, franchising, etc.

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