Negotiation Research You Can Use: Women’s Leadership in Negotiation

A closer look at the “backlash effect”

By on / Leadership Skills

Numerous research studies have found that women who assertively emphasize their skills, accomplishments, or desire to lead tend to be viewed as less likable and less hirable than men who are equally assertive. Women appear to suffer from this phenomenon, known as the backlash effect, when they act contrary to gender-stereotypical expectations that they will be accommodating and passive.

Yet not all research studies have found evidence of a backlash effect against women. To understand why, Melissa J. Williams of Emory University and Larissa Z. Tiedens of Stanford University closely analyzed 63 past studies that focused on evaluations of individuals behaving dominantly.

Williams and Tiedens found that study participants reacted more negatively to women whose dominance behaviors were explicit—for example, when they were making a demand or advocating for a particular position. By contrast, women did not incur a backlash when their dominant behavior was implicit—for example, when they used expansive body language or a direct speaking style associated with stereotypical male behavior.

The results suggest that women need not shy away from adopting a commanding nonverbal presence in negotiations. It also suggests that organizations need to work harder to ensure that women are not penalized based on their gender for making direct requests and demands.

Resource: “The Subtle Suspension of Backlash: A Meta-Analysis of Penalties for Women’s Implicit and Explicit Dominance Behavior,” by Melissa J. Williams and Larissa Z. Tiedens, Psychological Bulletin, 2015.

 In negotiation, a “blowback effect” from feigned anger

Pretending to be angry can intimidate counterparts into making greater concessions than they had planned, some negotiation research has found. But a new study by Rachel L. Campagna of the University of New Hampshire and her colleagues finds evidence of an undesirable blowback effect, in which one’s false display of anger leads one to experience genuine anger and also inspires retaliatory behavior from one’s counterpart.

In one experiment, participants playing the role of a job candidate believed they were negotiating online with another participant playing the role of an employer over payment for completing a task. The experimenters sent the participants preprogrammed messages that seemed to convey either the employer’s anger, happiness, or neutrality in reaction to the exchange of offers. Participants could then decide whether to accept or reject the employer’s final (preprogrammed) offer of $25. After the negotiation, the participants had the chance to renege on the agreement they’d just reached and accept an offer to work on the same task, also for $25, from a different employer.

Most participants chose to accept the employer’s offer, regardless of the employer’s apparent emotional state—angry, happy, or neutral. However, a full 55% of participants who faced a seemingly angry counterpart chose to renege on the deal, due to a lack of trust in their counterpart, whereas only 18% of those facing a neutral counterpart and 17% of those facing a happy counterpart chose to renege. The employer’s angry responses triggered anger and distrust in negotiators, who then seized an opportunity to sabotage the deal.

In another experiment, pairs of students engaged in a simulated two-stage job negotiation online over work conditions and benefits (first stage) and compensation (second stage). During the first stage, those playing the employer were given financial incentives to seem either angry, happy, or neutral. Those assigned to appear angry actually felt angrier after the negotiation than those assigned to appear happy or neutral. The emotion expressed by the “employer” didn’t affect the deal negotiators reached in the first stage. However, during the second stage, relative to those in the happy or neutral conditions, “employers” in the angry condition offered their partners a higher salary and also behaved more politely, suggesting that they were trying to make up for their feigned anger. “Employers” in the angry condition also felt a greater need than those in the happy or neutral conditions to pay a bonus to ensure that their new “employee” cooperated on the job.

Overall, the findings suggest that feigning anger may not only bring no short-term benefits but also create both the fear and the reality that those confronted with false anger will sabotage any deal that is reached.

Resource: “Strategic Consequences of Emotional Misrepresentation in Negotiation: The Blowback Effect,” by Rachel L. Campagna, Alexandra A. Mislin, Dejun Tony Kong, and William P. Bottom, Journal of Applied Psychology, 2015.

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