How Outsider Status Benefits Negotiators at the Bargaining Table

Negotiation advice: When outsiders become overachievers at the bargaining table

By on / Negotiation Skills

When faced with the task of assigning a subordinate to represent their organization in a negotiation, managers might look for strong negotiating experience, intelligence, a good attitude, and a winning personality. In a new study, professor Gerben A. Van Kleef of the University of Amsterdam and his colleagues identify another beneficial quality that’s more surprising: outsider status within the organization.


Build powerful negotiation skills and become a better dealmaker and leader. Download our FREE special report, Negotiation Skills: Negotiation Strategies and Negotiation Techniques to Help You Become a Better Negotiator, from the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School.


Negotiation Research on “Prototypicals”

Psychologists who study groups classify some members as “prototypical.” These individuals fit in well, whether because they are longtime members or because their personality or demographic characteristics are similar to those of other members (see also, Body Language in Negotiation: How Facial Expressions Impact Bargaining Scenarios and How to Become a Negotiation Jiujitsu Master).

By contrast, other group members are referred to as “peripheral” because they are newcomers or differ from the majority in some clear way. As a consequence of their outsider status, peripheral members may feel insecure and be driven to prove that they belong.

Making Connections at the Negotiation Table

In their experiments, Van Kleef and colleagues assigned participants to groups. Some individuals were led to feel peripheral to their group, in terms of personality similarity, while others were led to feel prototypical. Participants then prepared for or engaged in a negotiation with (they were told) a representative of another group. As compared with prototypical members, peripheral members were more motivated to search for and process relevant information before negotiating, were more attuned to their counterparts’ emotions, and were better at reaching mutually beneficial agreements—but only when they were held accountable to their group members for their behavior. When they were not held accountable, proto-typicals and peripherals performed similarly.

The results suggest that less-connected employees may be at least as effective as established ones at representing your organization in an outside negotiation because of their strong motivation to fit in, as long as you carefully monitor their work.

Related Article: Emotional Intelligence as a Negotiating Skill and Negotiation Tactic

Negotiation Skills and Negotiation Training – Techniques and Strategies for Improving Your Negotiating Ability

Negotiation Situations: Examples of When Negotiators Assume Too Much


Build powerful negotiation skills and become a better dealmaker and leader. Download our FREE special report, Negotiation Skills: Negotiation Strategies and Negotiation Techniques to Help You Become a Better Negotiator, from the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School.


Source: “On Being Peripheral and Paying Attention: Prototypicality and Information Processing in Intergroup Conflict,” by Gerben A. Van Kleef, Wolfgang Steinel, and Astrid C. Homan. Journal of Applied Psychology, 2012.

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