When setbacks arise in negotiation— from a take-it-or-leave-it offer to a walkout to an unexpected economic downturn—we’re faced with several choices. We can end the negotiation temporarily or permanently, we can double down and escalate conflict and competition, or we can see the setback as an opportunity for growth. By training ourselves to take this last approach, we can improve our odds of recovering from adverse events and reaching more satisfying outcomes, write Benjamin Lewis, a graduate of the University of Melbourne, and his colleagues in a new research study.
In their study, Lewis and his team drew on findings from psychological research showing that people who focus on the positive consequences of adverse events are more likely to overcome them and grow from them than those who focus on the more obvious negatives. “Cognitive reappraisal”—that is, seeing the silver lining beneath a setback—makes people more resilient, less depressed, and more satisfied on the job.
The researchers assigned pairs of participants to engage in two consecutive simulated employment contract negotiations, with one person playing a café owner and the other playing an employee. Some of the pairs were given a difficult negotiation challenge: to agree on the employee’s hourly wage despite the fact that there was no overlap between the minimum the employee wanted to accept and the most the employer planned to offer. Among the 20 pairs in this condition, only five reached agreement. For other pairs, the negotiation was set up to be much easier, as there was an overlap between how much the employer would pay and how much the employee would demand. In this condition, all but one pair reached agreement.
Next, all the participants were asked to individually write about a moment or event during the negotiation that was particularly challenging. Some of them were also asked to focus on the benefits of the challenge, such as how they might use it to improve their performance in future negotiations or whether it led them to recognize any new skills in themselves. Other participants instead were asked to focus on the difficult aspects of the negotiation, including aspects that might worsen their performance in future negotiations or weaknesses they’d noticed in their approach.
After that, the negotiating pairs regrouped and were asked to imagine that six months had passed. They then renegotiated the employee’s contract on issues such as scheduling and a potential raise. They all reached agreement after 20 minutes, and the researchers measured their level of satisfaction with aspects of the negotiation. The results showed that negotiators who had faced a difficult negotiation were more satisfied with the process and with their relationship with the other party when they had written about the benefits of a setback in their prior negotiation than when they had written about difficulties caused by that adverse event.
Overall, the results suggest that when we’re facing a significant challenge in a negotiation or have just ended a difficult bargaining situation, we should take time to think about what we can learn from the experience and how we can use it to grow and improve rather than simply dwelling on what went wrong.
Resource: “See the Benefit: Adversity Appraisal and Subjective Value in Negotiation,” by Benjamin Lewis, Mara Olekalns, Philip L. Smith, and Brianna Barker Caza. Negotiation Journal, 2018.