February 23, 2017
Sending and Receiving Trade Offers, and the Focusing Illusion
When it comes to trades and negotiation, we have already covered a wide array of topics, from anchoring to negotiation styles to the default effect to choice architecture. What we have not covered, though, is the effect of the focusing illusion on fantasy baseball trades. Daniel Kahneman coined the term, and in discussing the focusing illusion, he famously said, “Nothing in life is as important as you think it is when you are thinking about it.”
Our means of trading is the trade offer and the trade offer inherently causes us to focus on particular players (the player being offered or requested) or a particular type of trade (a pitcher for a hitter or an expiring asset for a long-term asset). As a result of this, the focusing illusion likely plays a large role in determining the trades that get made, but how so?
In theory, trades will be made whenever two teams value things differently (and that there are not superior alternatives). Once such a chasm in valuation is found (again, in theory) both teams negotiate to both maximize their gains and minimize their losses. Sometimes this happens, but what happens most of the time is that the initial offer is either rejected or some kind of trade that is based on the premise of the initial offer is ultimately completed. Why? This happens because of the focusing illusion, because when our mind evaluates a trade offer (or, really, any idea), we often fail to explore all the other options, instead focusing on the offer at hand. Using an example from Robert Cialdini’s Pre-suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade, when we get asked in a survey if we enjoyed our stay at a hotel, we think about whether we enjoyed our time there, not necessarily whether our time spent there was more or less enjoyable than our stays elsewhere or how we would have enjoyed our time if spent elsewhere. Just as we make friends with people because of proximity, hold a greater chance of purchasing items at the grocery store placed on the end-caps of the isle, we make trades that we think about, we make trades that we are offered or offer. Cialdini writes, “To receive the benefits of focused attention, the key is to keep the focus unitary.”
This is all to say that the trades that are made are not only influenced by what makes sense, but by what we are focused on, and the trade offer is a tremendous means of keeping the focus of a possible trade both unitary and centered on what we want. Now that we know what a powerful tool the trade offer can be, we will take a look at how to both wield them and respond to them more effectively.
Send More Offers
This one is in need of a disclaimer—“send more offers” does not mean that we should send all of the offers and it does not mean that we should send egregiously one-sided (read: bad) offers. Rather, “send more offers” means we should send more league-norm-allowed offers; it means we should do so in order to more frequently take advantage of the focusing illusion. While any trade offer can be disregarded or rejected, each offer increases our chances of setting the focus of the negotiation. For example, while a potential trade partner might have no reason to trade an outfielder for a middle infielder, by simply sending an offer asking “Noticed you have a lot of outfielders, but no second baseman, any interest in Player X for Player Y?” we can get our opponent to consider, and thus increase the likelihood of them agreeing to, a trade in which they place too much value on positional scarcity or roster construction. Again, there is certainly going to be a failure rate (and potentially an ever-increasing rate of failure because we are not only making the obvious trade offers), but it is an advantage we can gain through nothing other than effort.
Send Better Offers
As mentioned, the above recommendation comes with the caveat of do not be annoying. The best way to not be perceived as annoying or, more importantly, deceitful is to make offers that at least feign an attempt to provide some benefit to the team we are extending offers. Do we need to believe that the trade we are offering is the best possible trade for our opponent in order to offer it? Of course not, but our trade offers will have a higher success rate (maybe not for immediate acceptance, but at least for continued negotiation around the initial parameters), if we demonstrate an ability to understand their needs. From personal experience, I have found the most success doing so by sending offers that offer some benefit to my opponents’ teams that I do not truly view as a benefit (such as the previously mentioned positional scarcity or production fit). I have also found it helpful to send trades offers that are constructed in a similar way to trades a league-mate has accepted in the past because, as we have discussed previously, people will go to great lengths, often illogical and suboptimal lengths, to avoid being viewed as logically inconsistent.
Don’t Take Offers at Face Value
Lastly, when we receive an offer—and in many leagues this is an exciting and rare occurrence because of the loss averse nature of our league-mates and people in general—we need to make sure to review it cautiously. It is easy to jump right in to analyzing the offer and figuring out if it is a win for your team and if you could counter to get even more. But we are 960 or so words wiser than we were at the beginning of this article, so we know that our minds are going to begin to focus on the option at hand without fully considering all the other conservatives. Consequently, let us endeavor to make each trade offer received a starting point for a process; a process in which we review our current competitive situation and determine what would be the ideal course of action for our team. We can then begin whittling down our options based on feasibility, and from there determine if the players discussed in the trade offer or even the type of trade being discussed in the trade offer not only makes sense, but is the best course of action for our team. As we have discussed in previous articles, we should always use trade offers received as a chance to learn what our opponent is interested in and whether the market values our players or assets more than we do, but we need to make sure the focusing illusion is not corrupting our process.