Regulatory focus is a theory about whether a person (or group) is motivated by promotion or prevention. I sometimes find the distinction helpful, as do certain clients. The exercise of switching focus from one to the other also can be illuminating. In addition to working with clients with legal matters, the theory can be helpful in coaching, marketing, managing others, and teambuilding.
If the theory sounds intriguing, you may learn more from the below resources.
First: "Accentuate the Positive" (Program on Negotiation at Harvard newsletter). Excerpt:
Tory Higgins, a social psychologist, and his colleagues Lorraine Chen Idson and Nira Liberman have introduced the concept of regulatory focus. According to Higgins, when making decisions, people focus on either promotion or prevention. Those focused on promotion are primarily concerned with accomplishments, hopes, and aspirations, while those with a prevention focus care more about safety, responsibility, and obligations.
Regulatory focus theory provides a theoretical framework that distinguishes between different response patterns that tend to emerge in the pursuit of individual goals. Previous research has revealed that individuals with a promotion vs. prevention focus each show a characteristic pattern of emotional responses and task performance. In the present research we will focus on collective task contexts, in order to examine our central hypothesis that intra- and inter-group processes may encourage the development of a promotion or a prevention focus in individual group members, and to assess how this affects arousal, emotion and performance in a group context. First, we will examine how personal and group regulatory focus interact to influence subjective and objective indicators of group effectiveness. Second, we will examine the interplay of
Note: Regulatory focus may sound familiar to those of you acquainted with the away from-towards orientations or metaprograms described in the section "Analyzing the 'metaprograms'" here [pdf] (case-strategy.net). Excerpt:
group status and personal power (the ability to control the group s outcomes) on the emergence of regulatory focus. Third, we will address the role of accountability, and audience effects. Fourth, we will examine how individual transition through the group induces temporal changes in regulatory focus.
It may be helpful to think of a metaprogram in this way: people are motivated and energized to think, feel, and react in a certain way, i.e., to provide pleasure and/or happiness (a “towards” metaprogram), or to avoid pain or sadness (an “away” metaprogram). For example, a juror may want to put a limit on the amount of money a plaintiff can receive for pain and suffering (an “away” metaprogram); or the juror may want to make sure that a manufacturer keeps making a life- saving drug in case he or she may need it in the future (a “towards” metaprogram).
The attorney cannot develop an effective trial or settlement strategy, or even pick a jury, if he or she does not understand how the jurors’ various metaprograms may affect the manner in which they evaluate and decide the case. ...