Bet you didn’t know…When learning is the best goal of all

By on / Negotiation Skills

Abundant negotiation research suggests that negotiators are better off setting specific, challenging goals rather than vague “I’ll do my best” goals. In a new study, Kevin Tasa of York University in Toronto and his colleagues take a first look at whether it’s better to focus your specific goals on the negotiation process or on its outcome—that is, whether to adopt learning-oriented goals or performance goals.

In the researchers’ first experiment, pairs of students in a negotiation course engaged in a simulation that encouraged competition but also included a less obvious opportunity for parties to create joint value through collaboration. Participants who were instructed to “learn as much as you can” about the other party claimed less value in the negotiation than did those who were given a specific financial goal. Yet compared with those with the learning goal, those with the performance goal were more likely to reach impasse, and their counterparts judged them to be less cooperative.

In a second experiment, participants engaged in a simulated employment negotiation that involved various issues (salary, vacation time, etc.). Among participants playing the role of job candidate, those instructed to focus on learning specific skills and strategies, such as understanding their counterparts, achieved better objective outcomes than did those who were told to aim for a specific point value. Those in the learning-goal condition were also viewed as more cooperative than those in the performance-goal condition.

The results suggest that in complex negotiations involving multiple issues, it is smarter to set specific learning goals, such as adopting strategies aimed at understanding your counterpart and listening actively, than to focus on achieving a particular target.

Resource: “Goals in Negotiation Revisited: The Impact of Goal Setting and Implicit Negotiation Beliefs,” by Kevin Tasa, Anthony Celani, and Chris M. Bell. Negotiation and Conflict Management Research, 2013.

How racial identification holds back negotiators

Feeling a strong identification with one’s race prompts prejudice and discrimination in threatening circumstances, past research has found. Is negotiation such a circumstance?

To find out, Debra Gilin Oore and two colleagues from Saint Mary’s University in Canada looked specifically at how white negotiators interact with other white negotiators and with black negotiators. Canadian undergraduate students were first measured on their sense of racial in-group identification, such as the degree to which they were glad to be a member of their racial group and believed that they had a lot in common with other members of that group. In general, the white participants—the focus of the study—ranged from feeling neutral about their racial group to feeling strongly positive about it; few felt negatively.

The researchers invited the white participants back a week later to engage in an online simulated job negotiation. The participants briefly met their ostensible negotiating partners, who were actually four trained actors posing as students: one black male, one black female, one white male, and one white female. The participants were randomly assigned to negotiate with one of the actors via computer and were shown a picture of their partner before negotiating.

Participants who strongly identified with their race engaged in more trusting, cooperative negotiations with white partners and took a less trusting, more competitive approach with black partners. As a result, they achieved higher joint gains with white partners than with black partners. This was true despite the fact that all of the partners, white and black alike, delivered scripted responses in a uniformly competitive negotiating style. The white participants who identified strongly with their race appear to have given white counterparts the benefit of the doubt, but they viewed tough behavior by black counterparts as threatening.

By contrast, white participants who felt more neutral about their racial membership were better at seeking and sharing information about underlying interests with black and white negotiators alike. They appeared less threatened by the dominant stances of black counterparts and also less inclined to immediately trust white partners.

The results suggest that white negotiators need not be overtly prejudiced against black counterparts for their race to affect their negotiating style. Simply feeling closely identified to their race can cause white negotiators to behave in ways that trigger an us versus them mentality and impair their performance. Leaders may be able to improve such employees’ behavior through diversity initiatives and training in perspective taking.

Resource: “When White Feels Right: The Effects of In-Group Affect and Race of Partner on Negotiation Performance,” by Debra Gilin Oore, Annette Gagnon, and David Bourgeois. Negotiation and Conflict Management Research, 2013.

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