Adapted from “Faulty Expectations,” first published in the Negotiation newsletter.
One of the most common, clear recommendations to emerge from negotiation literature is the need to consider the other party’s decisions. Ample evidence shows that negotiators too often fail to think about the other negotiator or do so in a simplistic manner. Professors Kristina A. Diekmann of the University of Utah, Ann E. Tenbrunsel of Notre Dame University, and Adam D. Galinsky of Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management conducted a series of studies that warn us that even when people do form expectations about the other side, they may do so in a biased manner that harms their own negotiation outcomes.
Diekmann and her colleagues reviewed a great deal of research showing that people exaggerate the degree to which they differ with opponents and tend to expect the worst from the other side. These findings suggest that people are not very good at anticipating the behavior of others. The researchers next examined how negotiators respond to an opponent’s competitive behavior. It turns out that most negotiators predict they will respond aggressively to competitive behavior from the other side-in other words, they believe they will fight fire with fire. Yet in multiple studies by the same research team, would-be lions turned out to be merely mice that whimper. When faced with competitive opponents, most people reduce their own expectations, weaken their counteroffers, and enable outcomes that favor the other side.
Clearly, a gap exists between negotiators’ expectations and actual performance in a competitive setting. Too many negotiators reward their opponents for aggressive behavior. The rational negotiator needs to analyze the source of an opponent’s competitiveness more carefully. Is the negotiator talking tough because she has a very good alternative, or is this just her style? If the former, you may need to make concessions to secure an agreement. But when competitiveness is all style and no substance, there is no reason to reward this behavior.