Bet you didn’t know…Will a team approach work? Consider the culture

By on / International Negotiation

In negotiation, two (or more) heads are better than one, most researchers have found. In several studies conducted in the United States, teams were better than solo negotiators at exchanging information with counterparts and making accurate judgments, and teams also achieved better outcomes for everyone involved.

The tendency of teams to outperform solo negotiators has been attributed to several factors, including the high economic goals that teams set for themselves, their heightened sense of competition, and members’ tendency to challenge one another’s views. It may also be important that team members monitor one another’s behavior, while individuals often negotiate unobserved by others in their organizations. Monitoring tends to amplify the social norms, or behavioral expectations, that are salient in a given situation. In the individualistic culture of the United States, for example, the social norm that predominates in economic situations such as negotiation is self-interest. Thus, members of U.S. negotiating teams may have a strong incentive to show one another that they are advancing the group’s interests.

By contrast, in collectivistic East Asian cultures, group harmony is generally a more salient social norm than self-interest. In a new study, researcher Michele J. Gelfand of the University of Maryland and her colleagues set out to determine if this difference affects the negotiation performance of teams.

They compared the outcomes of individual negotiators and negotiating teams in both the United States and Taiwan in a two-party negotiation simulation. In two experiments, U.S. teams and solo negotiators achieved similar outcomes, a finding that diverges from other past research, perhaps because the negotiating exercise was easier than exercises used in prior research, Gelfand and her colleagues theorized. Meanwhile, Taiwanese teams performed significantly worse than Taiwanese solo negotiators. Taiwanese teams appear to have sacrificed value because of a desire to maintain harmony.

The results suggest that the question of whether to negotiate alone or as part of a team is less straightforward than past research suggests. Negotiators operating in cultures where harmony is a stronger norm than self-interest, for example, might find advantages to going it alone.

Resource: “Toward a Culture-by-Context Perspective on Negotiation: Negotiating Teams in the United States and Taiwan,” by Michele J. Gelfand, Jeanne Brett, Brian C. Gunia, Lynn Imai, Tsai-Jung Huang, and Bi-Fen Hsu. Journal of Applied Psychology, March 2013.

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