Adapted from “Negotiating with Those Who Matter Most,” first published in the Negotiation newsletter, December 2007.
Who achieves the best negotiated outcomes: strangers, friends, or romantic partners? In a 1993 negotiation simulation, Margaret Neale of Stanford University and Kathleen McGinn found that pairs of friends achieved higher joint gains than married couples and pairs of strangers.
Along with their colleague Elizabeth Mannix of Cornell University, the researchers suggest that a “curvilinear relationship” exists between the strength of the tie between negotiating partners and the gains they achieve. Specifically, negotiating friends and couples have an edge over strangers by virtue of their knowledge of the other side’s preferences. Yet couples may be so averse to conflict that they are less successful than friends at capitalizing on differences.
But couples may not mind missing out on these gains, due to the high value they place on “symbolic outcomes”–the messages negotiators send each other about the relationship through their actions. When a husband forgoes the movie he would like to see in favor of his wife’s choice, she receives not only the pleasure of seeing her preferred film but also the knowledge that her husband will sometimes put her desires before his. In close relationships, such reciprocal concessions, whether minor or major, can be invaluable.