When outsiders become overachievers
When faced with the task of assigning a subordinate to represent their organization in a negotiation, managers might look for strong negotiating experience, intelligence, a good attitude, and a winning personality. In a new study, professor Gerben A. Van Kleef of the University of Amsterdam and his colleagues identify another beneficial quality that’s more surprising: outsider status within the organization.
Psychologists who study groups classify some members as “prototypical.” These individuals fit in well, whether because they are longtime members or because their personality or demographic characteristics are similar to those of other members.
By contrast, other group members are referred to as “peripheral” because they are newcomers or differ from the majority in some clear way. As a consequence of their outsider status, peripheral members may feel insecure and be driven to prove that they belong.
In their experiments, Van Kleef and colleagues assigned participants to groups. Some individuals were led to feel peripheral to their group, in terms of personality similarity, while others were led to feel prototypical. Participants then prepared for or engaged in a negotiation with (they were told) a representative of another group. As compared with prototypical members, peripheral members were more motivated to search for and process relevant information before negotiating, were more attuned to their counterparts’ emotions, and were better at reaching mutually beneficial agreements—but only when they were held accountable to their group members for their behavior. When they were not held accountable, prototypicals and peripherals performed similarly.
The results suggest that less-connected employees may be at least as effective as established ones at representing your organization in an outside negotiation because of their strong motivation to fit in, as long as you carefully monitor their work.
Source: “On Being Peripheral and Paying Attention: Prototypicality and Information Processing in Intergroup Conflict,” by Gerben A. Van Kleef, Wolfgang Steinel, and Astrid C. Homan. Journal of Applied Psychology, 2012.
Negotiating with the wrong job applicant
Many managers may be failing to bring the right job candidates to the negotiating table because of a phenomenon called the “generalist bias,” write Long Wang of the City University of Hong Kong and J. Keith Murnighan of Northwestern University in a new study.
Consider that hiring managers can seek out “specialists” or “generalists” to interview for open positions. “Specialists” excel at just one or a few key skills (such as three-point shooting on the basketball court or a particular kind of brain surgery) but tend to perform below average on other job tasks. “Generalists,” such as entrepreneurs and executives, can cover various needs in their organizations, though their skills tend to be shallower than those of specialists.
In their research, Wang and Murnighan found that both study participants and real-world decision makers had a bias toward choosing to interview and hire generalists, even when the narrow skills of a specialist were required.
For example, in the National Basketball Association (NBA), skilled three-point shooters (specialists) are rare yet important assets to their teams. But the researchers found that actual three-point shooters in the NBA are financially compensated based on their two-point (generalist) shooting, at which they typically perform worse than other players.
In addition, in a follow-up lab experiment, participants were biased toward choosing a two-point shooter for their hypothetical basketball team over a three-point shooter even though they understood that their team needed a specialist more.
When the participants evaluated specialists and generalists separately, rather than comparing them to one another, they overcame the generalist bias and made the better choice for their organizations—that is, the specialist. The results suggest that when a specialist is needed, hiring managers may be able to overcome the generalist bias by judging each candidate on his or her own merits.
Source: “The Generalist Bias,” by Long Wang and J. Keith Murnighan. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 2013.