What is Switch Tracking and how does it affect negotiations?

Peter Thomson


by Peter Thomson

railway-tracks-2-1205659.jpgSwitch Tracking is a pattern in conversations where one person’s reaction to feedback from the other changes the topic of conversation.  Two people having a conversation start to talk about two different things.  The concept of Switch Tracking was recently considered on NPR’s Podcast “The Hidden Brain”.  This excellent podcast can be listened to here:


The phenomenon is illustrated in this podcast by a situation where a couple is about to go away on a mini-break.  The husband presents his wife with some red roses.  She takes offense because she has told him in the past that she does not like them.  She immediately expresses her displeasure as she feels her husband has not been listening to her.  He is upset by her reaction and feels his effort is not being appreciated.  An argument ensues where both the husband and wife continue to express their frustration and anger but are on completely different tracks.  

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So what can we learn from this for negotiating?  Well, to ensure exchanges are more agreeable we can monitor the tracks both ourselves and our counterparties are on. If we notice we are on a different track, we should address this and the underlying reasons with the counterparty.  This will reduce friction, stop negotiators speaking at cross-purposes and allow agreement to be reached more quickly.  It makes for “happy” negotiation and contracting!

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The podcast goes on to discuss many other observations about human behavior that can be applied to negotiations.  When we receive feedback from others, we either accept, consider and then seek to apply it, or switch to considering what the motives are for the person providing us with the feedback.  It has been proven to be harder for people to receive feedback from those they are close to than those who are more removed from their personal situation.  A study found that men are more likely to switch to thinking about their wives’ motivations for giving them feedback when they are receiving it on topics upon which they consider themselves experts. It is necessary to be aware of and monitor this when negotiating with those close to us so we do not inadvertently dismiss important issues and cause disharmony in relationships.

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Some other interesting observations presented in this podcast are that people are more likely to be responsive to a request when the request is personalized and also that people will be more responsive to criticism if you boost their self-esteem by giving them positive feedback before addressing anything negative.

The podcast is well worth a listen as it has many tips and tricks for happy contracting and making the world more agreeable.  Ultimately, listen well, communicate clearly and stay on track… Let us know what you think of it!

ContractRoom, home of #HappyContracting – making the world more agreeable one happy contract at a time. Negotiate less, Agree More!

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About the author

Peter Thomson

Peter Thomson

Peter has been involved in technology since he developed his 1st product for the legal industry in 1987 - a case management system called CaseTrack. But didn't stop there, and has continued to push for innovation and disruption to make processes more efficient and just plain happier!

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