What If We Have the Same Social Motive at the Bargaining Table?

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Adapted from “Negotiating Differences: How Contrasting Styles Affect Outcomes,” by Laurie R. Weingart for the January 2007 issue of the Negotiation newsletter.

When two people share the same motive, they fall prey to the same flaws and reinforce each other’s failings. Consider a labor negotiation in which the chief management negotiator withholds information about revenue projections, while the labor leader holds back details about workforce sentiment. Impasse is the predictable result. When you’re negotiating with a fellow individualist or a fellow cooperator, your goal should be to overcome the inherent flaws of your orientation (to identify your negotiating style – please read “Identifying Your Negotiation Style”).

The Case of Two Cooperators

Two cooperators who meet at the negotiating table risk concentrating so closely on each other’s interests that they lose sight of their own – and settle for outcomes that split the difference rather than truly satisfy both parties’ interests. Imagine that a newly hired research analyst fails to ask his manager for a cutting-edge workstation for fear of appearing greedy. The manager, who has already been quite responsive to his requests, would happily provide the workstation were she aware of the potential upside. Unfortunately, the joint benefit goes undiscovered.

Research with Mara Olekalns of the University of Melbourne and Jeanne Brett suggests strategies that can improve the outcomes of such negotiations. When you’re negotiating with a fellow cooperator, include value-claiming behaviors in your repertoire: make offers that focus on a single issue, communicate your own preferences and positions, and clarify your limits. When you claim value in a context of cooperation and trust, you focus the negotiation on exploring value-maximizing agreements – but be careful not to shift talks from problem solving contentiousness.

The Case of Two Individualists

When two individualists negotiate, their natural tendency to use value-claiming strategies, such as making demands and threats, can escalate into conflict and impasse, Olekalns and Philip Smith of the University of Melbourne have found. As Katie A. Liljenquist and Adam D. Galinsky note in “How to Defuse Threats at the Bargaining Table,” people tend to reciprocate negative behaviors more than positive ones.

As conflict increases, the odds of maximizing mutual gain decrease, as do your chances of maximizing individual gain. Suppose two individualists negotiate a joint venture. Although both parties may feel they got the best outcome possible, the resulting agreement will likely overlook synergies across the two organizations. An exception to this tendency sometimes emerges when individualists face a looming deadline. Some begin working to create value. This shift may help them reach an agreement, but they may not actually achieve high outcomes for themselves.

Yet individualistic negotiating pairs can reach high quality agreements – see “Individualists: Cooperate to Claim Value.”


Discover step-by-step techniques for avoiding common business negotiation pitfalls when you download a copy of the FREE special report, Business Negotiation Strategies: How to Negotiate Better Business Deals, from the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School.


Related Article: The Deal Is Done – Now What?

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