Negotiation research you can use: Message received: Smartphones and negotiation don’t mix

By on / Negotiation Skills

You’ve probably grown accustomed to seeing people not-so-discreetly checking messages on their smartphones or laptops during meetings. Maybe you’ve even been guilty of this yourself.

Paying more attention to a phone than to the person in front us is clearly rude in most situations. Could it also affect how well we negotiate? Researchers Aparna Krishnan and Terri R. Kurtzberg of Rutgers University and Charles E. Naquin of DePaul University examined this question in a recent study.

The team assigned pairs of graduate business school students to engage in a negotiation simulation between a theater venue and the production company of a touring show. The simulation gave the negotiators opportunities to both claim value for themselves and work with the other side to create additional value. They were told to try to maximize their individual payoffs over the course of the negotiation.

In some of the pairs, one of the negotiators was told to bring his or her cell phone to the negotiation to read confidential e-mails from the instructor about the case. These negotiators received three e-mail messages during the experiment, but the messages repeated only information the participants already had. These negotiators, referred to as “message receivers,” were paired with “onlookers”—people who did not check their phones.

The onlookers performed much better than the message receivers, earning $316,000 on average as compared to the average $236,000 earned by the message receivers. In addition, and perhaps not surprisingly, onlookers judged message receivers to be relatively unprofessional, while message receivers rated their onlooker partners as highly professional. Despite their much better results, onlookers were significantly less satisfied with the outcome of the negotiation than message receivers were, and they also viewed their counterparts as untrustworthy.

The results attest to the extreme difficulty of multitasking in situations such as negotiation that require keen attention and quick thinking. The message is clear: Checking your smartphone during a face-to-face negotiation may cause you to leave money on the table and squander goodwill.

Resource: “The Curse of the Smartphone: Electronic Multitasking in Negotiations,” by Aparna Krishnan, Terri R. Kurtzberg, and Charles E. Naquin. Negotiation Journal, April 2014.

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