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Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt

        posted by , January 31, 2013

Fear makes people do dumb things and make bad decisions.

It's possible (but unethical) to use fear to influence or to achieve negotiation results. A common negotiation tactic known as Fear, Uncertainty & Doubt (FUD) does exactly that.

It's important to recognize FUD tactics. If others can manipulate your fears you'll risk bad decisions and negotiation failures.

Definition: Fear, Uncertainty & Doubt

Fear, Uncertainty & Doubt is a dubious negotiation tactic designed to influence an opponent by their triggering fear instincts.


The Only Thing To Fear is Fear Itself

The only thing we have to fear is...fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.
~ Franklin D. Roosevelt, First Inauguration Speech
When Franklin D. Roosevelt warned of the dangers of fear, he knew what he was talking about.

He took office in 1933, at the height of the Great Depression. The World was gripped in financial panic. Unemployment in the U.S. was 25%. International trade had dropped by more than 50%.

The Great Depression started on October 29, 1929 with a dramatic market drop known as Black Tuesday. The fear generated by this event is largely attributed with triggering the Great Depression.

Capital markets froze up because banks were scared to lend to each other. Businesses laid off employees in a panic. Fearful consumers stopped spending. Politicians blamed international trade for their problems and threw up trade barriers. Economic activity on every front ground to a halt.

That's how powerful fear can be.

Uncertainty and Doubt

Even a faint scent of fear is enough to dramatically influence negotiations and decision making.

Uncertainty and doubt is fairly easy to generate. A negotiator only needs to imply that something bad might happen to trigger it.

For example, a salesperson can suggest that a competitor might go bankrupt. The salesperson doesn't need any evidence. It doesn't need to be true. The fact that the statement sows doubt in the mind of the customer is often enough to influence that customer's decisions.

Examples of Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt Tactics

A software salesperson claims that a competitor violates patents and implies legal liability issues.

A electronics company claims that users liberating their devices is a catastrophic security threat.

A government promotes a culture of fear to drive support for its priorities.

A software salesperson implies that open source software is likely to contain viruses.

During salary negotiations, an employer implies that a bad recession is coming.

A social network implies that privacy is a security threat.




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