Negotiation: Challenge or threat?

By — on / Daily, Negotiation Skills

Adapted from “Do Attitudes Influence Results?” first published in the Negotiation newsletter, January 2007.

Many people consider negotiations to be stressful and threatening. Others view them as challenges that can be overcome. Do these different attitudes influence the outcomes that people reach? Research by professors Kathleen O’Connor of Cornell University and Josh Arnold of California State University sheds light on this important question.

In a series of laboratory studies, O’Connor and Arnold confirmed that some people view negotiation as a threat, and others view it as a challenge. The researchers examined the outcomes achieved by study participants who placed themselves in one of these two categories. When talks had integrative potential (often called a win-win situation), participants who viewed negotiation as a challenge were better at identifying and capturing opportunities to expand the pie than were those who viewed it as a threat. But in purely distributive (win-lose) negotiations, no significant difference in outcomes exists between the “threat” and “challenge” groups.

For those who view negotiations as stressful, O’Connor and Arnold’s results provide motivation to boost your confidence. Do you visit haggle-free car dealers such as Saturn because you find buying a car to be stressful? If so, this research suggests that you might benefit from haggling at a more traditional car dealership because buying a car is primarily a distributive exercise. In addition, negotiating a satisfactory purchase price might reduce your stress level in future integrative negotiations, where stress can hinder the process of value creation.

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