Research on stereotypes has reached conclusions about how lack of power and status can affect performance on negotiation and other tasks. Laura Kray of the University of California at Berkeley and her colleagues found in their research that women negotiators performed worse than men when they were led to believe that their performance reflected negotiating ability. The mention of “ability” seemed to trigger the stereotype that women are less effective negotiators than men.
Simply knowing that others may be judging according to negative stereotypes can impair our performance, according to Stanford University professor Claude Steele. All of us – from white males to African American women to those low on the workplace totem pole – experience this stereotype threat at different points in their lives. The fear of acting in a way that confirms a negative stereotype usually becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The performance of negotiators in your organization may be suffering due to their lack of power, status, or other factors unrelated to their actual skills. To help improve their results, take these lessons to heart.
1. Enhance feelings of power. Engendering a sense of power in your employees should improve their ability to plan and follow through on their negotiation goals. Aside from granting more power through promotions and assignments, how can you help subordinates feel more powerful? Encourage them to suggest organizational improvements and take their advice seriously. You can prompt negotiators in in particular to feel more powerful by asking them, before they negotiate, to think about a situation in which they felt powerful, Galinsky’s research has shown.
2. Set high standards. In one experiment, Steele, Geoffrey Cohen of the University of Colorado, and Lee Ross of Stanford found that African American students became more motivated to improve essays they had written when they were told they were being assessed according to high standards that evaluators believed the students could meet. The students viewed this type of feedback as less racially biased than unvarnished feedback or feedback prefaced by a positive statement. Thus, you should hold low-power negotiators accountable to high, objective standards and openly express confidence in their ability to meet them.
3. Criticize constructively. Concern about others’ potentially biased reactions can have a stronger impact on your performance than your own expectations, motivations and confidence, according to Steele. That’s why you should never assume that those with little power in your organization, such as entry-level managers or administrative staff, are less skilled or care less about their performance than those above them. Remember that the next time you’re about to speak to someone about poor performance in a negotiation, and temper your criticisms with concern.
Adapted from “Why It Pays for Negotiators to Feel More Powerful,” first published in the Negotiation newsletter, August 2008.