Hurry Up and Wait

By — on / Dispute Resolution

Suppose that one bargainer is impatient, gritting her teeth and thinking, “Cut to the chase,  for Pete’s sake!” Feeling pressured, the other person wants to say, “Easy on the coffee, pal! Let’s give this the time it deserves.”

According to a recent study by professor Karen J. Jansen of Pennsylvania State University’s Smeal College of Business and Amy L. Kristoff-Brown of the Tippie College of Business at the University of Iowa, this different sense of pacing will lead both parties to experience psychological strain.

Being out of sync will likely dampen their willingness to be helpful. Even if they do reach agreement, they may feel less satisfied with the process than if their feelings about time were harmonized.

Having a compatible sense of timing may be especially important in negotiations that take place in teams. The researchers surveyed more than 400 employees of a highly unionized plant. They identified individual time preferences and looked at the composition of different work groups, and then analyzed people’s self-reported job stress and satisfaction.

As expected, “hurriedness” increased feelings of stress, yet it reduced job satisfaction only when some members of the group were out of sync with others.

Even people who would ideally prefer a slow pace still maintained a high level of satisfaction as long as everyone else in the group marched to the same drummer. But when people felt rushed by others, frustration on both sides shattered cohesion.

The study suggests two important lessons for negotiators, whether dealing with colleagues or external parties. First, if you are a new arrival in an existing group you likely will be more aware of other people’s habitual rhythms than they themselves will be. Thus, it may be your responsibility to adjust. Second, rushed individuals feel more strain than those who are slowed by others. Impatience may gnaw at you when the other party seems to be going around in circles. Pressuring them, however, may not be in your interest, as it could slow their decision making even further.

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