Exploring Behavioral Economics in Contracting

Exploring Behavioral Economics in Contracting

Written By
Joy Cunanan
Updated on
December 5, 2023
Reading time:

Within the intricate field of contract negotiation lies a fascinating interplay of human behaviour and economic principles. Understanding the psychology behind negotiating contract terms is crucial, as it often determines the success or failure of a deal. At the heart of this is behavioural economics, where human biases, heuristics, and decision-making tendencies influence every step of the negotiation process.

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The Rationality Myth

Traditionally, economic theory assumes that individuals are rational agents, making decisions based on pure logic and self-interest. However, behavioural economics paints a more nuanced picture. It delves into the cognitive biases and psychological quirks that steer our decision-making, often deviating from traditional rationality.

The concept of rationality in economics historically assumes that individuals make decisions in a perfectly logical, consistent, and self-interested manner. This foundational assumption has been the cornerstone of classical economic models. However, the real-world dynamics of decision-making often diverge significantly from this idealised rationality.

Behavioural economics challenges the notion of perfect rationality by introducing the idea that humans are inherently prone to cognitive biases, emotions, and heuristics that deviate from purely logical decision-making.

Cognitive Biases and Deviations from Rationality

Bounded Rationality

Human cognition is limited. We can't process all available information, leading to bounded rationality. Consequently, decisions are often made based on incomplete or simplified information, rather than exhaustive analysis.

Emotional Influences

Emotions play a significant role in decision-making. Contrary to the assumption of purely rational decisions, emotions can sway choices and often override logical reasoning.

Heuristics and Mental Shortcuts

Instead of meticulously weighing all options, individuals often rely on mental shortcuts or heuristics, which can lead to systematic errors in judgment. These shortcuts simplify decision-making but can introduce biases.

Social and Contextual Influences

Decisions aren't made in isolation. Social norms, peer pressure, and environmental cues shape our choices, sometimes leading to decisions that might not align with strict rationality.

Real-World Examples of Irrationality in Decision-Making

The Endowment Effect

People tend to overvalue what they already possess. This can lead to situations in negotiations where parties overestimate the worth of what they own, impacting the perceived value of a deal.

Confirmation Bias

Individuals have a tendency to seek out information that confirms their preexisting beliefs or choices, ignoring contradictory evidence. In negotiations, this bias can lead to a refusal to consider alternative proposals or perspectives.

Present Bias

Immediate gains often carry more weight than future benefits. Negotiators might prioritise short-term gains even if a long-term perspective might offer more value.

Implications for Contract Negotiations

Acknowledging these deviations from strict rationality is pivotal. It necessitates a shift from assuming perfectly rational actors to understanding and leveraging these cognitive biases in negotiations.

Negotiators can employ strategies that account for these biases, such as framing proposals to resonate emotionally, setting anchors strategically to influence subsequent discussions, and understanding the impact of social dynamics on decision-making.

Anchoring and Framing Effects

One of the pivotal aspects of negotiating contracts lies in the ability to set initial reference points, known as anchors. These anchors serve as cognitive focal points, influencing subsequent negotiations. The phenomenon of anchoring demonstrates that individuals tend to rely heavily on the first piece of information presented, anchoring their subsequent decisions around this initial reference point.

Similarly, framing effects play a crucial role. The way information is presented can significantly alter perceptions and decisions. Whether a clause is framed as a loss or a gain can drastically impact the negotiation outcome.

Anchoring and framing effects are fundamental concepts in behavioural economics that profoundly influence decision-making, especially in the context of negotiations and contract discussions.

Anchoring Effect

Anchoring refers to the cognitive bias where individuals rely heavily on the first piece of information they receive when making subsequent decisions. This initial information, or anchor, serves as a reference point, shaping the way individuals perceive and evaluate subsequent information.

In negotiations, setting the right anchor is crucial. The initial offer, proposal, or even the starting point of discussions can significantly influence the direction and outcome of the negotiation. For instance, if a seller sets a high price as the initial anchor for a product, subsequent counteroffers and negotiations might hover around that higher price point.

Strategically employing anchoring involves:

Setting a Favorable Anchor

Initiating negotiations with an anchor that leans towards your desired outcome can influence the negotiation in your favour.

Adjusting Anchors

Skilled negotiators understand the malleability of anchors. They might introduce new information or revise the initial anchor to steer negotiations in a more advantageous direction.

Framing Effect

The Framing Effect revolves around how information is presented or framed, impacting decision-making. The way information is phrased, emphasising gains or losses, influences individuals' perceptions and subsequent decisions.

For instance, presenting a discount as a gain ("Save $100!") might yield different reactions compared to framing it as avoiding a loss ("Don't miss out on a $100 discount!"). Similarly, in contract negotiations, presenting terms in a positive light might lead to a more favourable response compared to highlighting potential drawbacks.

Strategies related to framing include:

Positive Framing

Highlighting benefits and gains in negotiations can make proposals more appealing and increase the likelihood of acceptance.

Neutralising Negative Frames

Addressing potential drawbacks or concerns upfront and then emphasising the positive aspects can balance the framing and mitigate negative perceptions.

Utilising Anchoring and Framing in Negotiations

Successful negotiators leverage anchoring and framing effects to their advantage. They carefully craft their initial offers, frame proposals positively, and strategically pivot discussions to maintain a favourable frame.

Moreover, being aware of these biases allows negotiators to detect when the opposing party is attempting to set anchors or frame discussions in their favour. This awareness enables more informed responses and counteroffers.

Loss Aversion and Risk Perception

Loss aversion and risk perception are pivotal aspects of behavioural economics that significantly impact decision-making in contract negotiations and shape how individuals evaluate and respond to various terms and proposals.

Loss Aversion

Loss aversion is the psychological tendency for individuals to strongly prefer avoiding losses over acquiring equivalent gains. Research suggests that losses have a more substantial impact on individuals than gains of the same magnitude. In negotiation contexts, this bias can significantly influence how parties perceive and respond to proposed terms.

Impact on Negotiations

Negotiators often exhibit a reluctance to concede on terms that might result in perceived losses. This could manifest as resisting changes to existing terms or being hesitant to make concessions that might be viewed as giving up something of value.

Mitigating Loss Aversion

Addressing loss aversion involves framing proposals or changes in a way that minimises the perception of loss. Emphasising the potential gains, highlighting compensatory benefits, or reframing concessions as opportunities can help reduce resistance.

Risk Perception

Risk perception refers to how individuals perceive and assess the level of risk associated with different choices or outcomes. Prospect Theory, a concept in behavioural economics, suggests that people evaluate potential outcomes based on a reference point, often the status quo or an initial offer, and exhibit risk-seeking behaviour for losses but tend to be risk-averse for gains.

Impact on Negotiations

In contract negotiations, parties might evaluate proposed changes or terms differently based on their perception of risk. They might be more inclined to accept a certain level of risk if it means avoiding losses or maintaining the status quo.

Balancing Risk and Reward

Negotiators need to understand and address the perceived risks associated with proposed changes. Presenting risk mitigation strategies or demonstrating how potential gains outweigh the perceived risks can encourage acceptance of proposed terms.

Loss Aversion and Risk Perception Strategies in Negotiations

Focus on Gains

Emphasising the potential benefits or gains of proposed changes or terms can help mitigate the impact of loss aversion, making the terms more attractive.

Risk Mitigation

Addressing and mitigating perceived risks through assurances, guarantees, or by providing evidence or data to support the proposal can increase the likelihood of acceptance.

Understanding Opposing Perspectives

Recognising that the other party may view proposals differently due to loss aversion and risk perception allows negotiators to tailor their approach, framing proposals to align with the other party's risk tolerance and preference for avoiding losses.

The Power of Social Norms and Reciprocity

The influence of social norms and the principle of reciprocity holds immense significance in the context of negotiations, often shaping the dynamics and outcomes of contract discussions.

Social Norms in Negotiations

Norms as Behavioral Guides

Social norms, the unwritten rules and expectations within a society or group, play a crucial role in negotiation settings. These norms act as behavioural guides, influencing how negotiators perceive appropriate behaviour and responses.

Normative Influence

Parties in negotiations are often guided by what they perceive as socially acceptable or expected behaviour. This can impact the tone, approach, and concessions made during discussions.

Reciprocity and its Influence

Reciprocity is a powerful social force wherein individuals feel obliged to return the favours, concessions, or gestures they receive. In negotiations, this principle often leads to a pattern of give-and-take, fostering a more cooperative environment.

The Reciprocal Loop

When one party makes a concession or offers something beneficial, there's a psychological inclination for the other party to reciprocate. This reciprocation fosters goodwill and cooperation during negotiations.

Building Relationships

Reciprocity isn't just about immediate gains; it's an investment in building relationships. Parties in negotiations understand that reciprocal gestures can pave the way for future collaborations and smoother interactions.

Strategies LeveAraging Social Dynamics

Building Rapport

Establishing a positive relationship early in negotiations can set the stage for reciprocity. Being respectful, attentive, and showing genuine interest can create a favourable atmosphere.

Strategic Concessions

Offering concessions strategically, especially early in negotiations, can trigger reciprocity. These concessions need not be substantial but should demonstrate goodwill and a willingness to cooperate.

Highlighting Shared Goals

Zooming into common objectives or shared benefits reinforces the idea of working together toward mutual success, fostering a sense of reciprocity.

Overcoming Biases and Maximising Value

Overcoming biases and increasing value in negotiations involves a multifaceted approach that integrates an understanding of cognitive biases with strategic manoeuvres to optimise outcomes for all parties involved.

Awareness and Recognition of Biases


Acknowledging one's own biases is the first step toward overcoming them. Understanding how cognitive biases such as confirmation bias, anchoring, or loss aversion might influence decisions allows negotiators to mitigate their impact.

Understanding the Other Party's Biases

Successful negotiators also strive to comprehend the biases influencing the opposing party. This awareness helps in framing proposals and responses effectively to counter or align with these biases.

Strategies to Overcome Biases

Information Gathering

Encourage open dialogue and information sharing to mitigate biases stemming from limited information. More comprehensive data and understanding often reduce biases in decision-making.

Deliberate Decision-Making

Implement structured decision-making processes to counteract impulsive or biased judgments. Setting clear criteria and evaluating options systematically can mitigate biases.

Maximising Value in Negotiations

Creating Value, Not Just Claiming It

Rather than focusing solely on claiming value for oneself, negotiators can aim to expand the pie by seeking mutually beneficial solutions that create value for all parties.

Interest-Based Negotiation

Shifting from a position-based approach to identifying and addressing underlying interests allows negotiators to find creative solutions that meet the true needs of both sides.

Integrative Negotiation Strategies

Expand the Options

Generating multiple potential solutions can overcome fixed perspectives and biases, allowing negotiators to explore alternative avenues for agreement.

Logrolling and Trade-offs

Identifying areas where priorities differ and trading concessions can enable negotiators to satisfy varied needs, optimising value creation.

Emphasis on Long-Term Relationships

Focus Beyond the Current Deal

Considering the impact of the negotiation on future collaborations can motivate parties to seek agreements that foster long-term partnerships.

Building Trust and Rapport

Investing in trust-building measures and maintaining a cooperative atmosphere can lead to more open discussions, reducing biases stemming from mistrust.

Streamline Negotiations and Contracting with Lexagle.

In the quest to navigate biases and extract maximum value from negotiations, a blend of cognitive insight and strategic finesse serves as an invaluable skill. By recognising biases, fostering structured decision-making, and emphasising value creation, negotiators transcend individual limitations to forge agreements that optimise outcomes and nurture enduring partnerships.

If you're eager to revolutionise your negotiation strategies and witness firsthand the power of cutting-edge tools in action, consider booking a demo with Lexagle. Experience how innovative technology can amplify your negotiation prowess, guiding you toward more fruitful agreements while embracing the art of value maximisation.

Exploring Behavioral Economics in Contracting
Joy Cunanan
Joy is the Digital Transformation Manager at Lexagle. As a marketing professional in the Tech and B2B industry for over seven years, she is always on the lookout for the next best solution in the ever-changing online world. With a passion for helping businesses thrive and optimize operations, she shares her expertise in the power of contract lifecycle management and its capacity of easing the contracting process for busy organizations worldwide.

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