Negotiate with Your Head, Not Your Heart
Thanks to Anne Reed over at Deliberations for forwarding this April 22 Psychology NewsWire, It Pays to Know Your Opponent: Success in Negotiations Improved by Perspective-Taking, But Limited by Empathy.
It Pays refers to recent work done by Kellogg School of Management Professor Adam Galinsky, who has demonstrated (with colleagues William Maddux -- (INSEAD -- Debra Gilin -- St. Mary's U. -- and Judith White -- Dartmouth) that success in negotiations depends on focusing on the head and not the heart. In other words, it is better to take the perspective of negotiation opponents rather than to empathize with them. (You may remember Galinsky as the academic responsible for demonstrating that the person who makes the first offer will (nearly) always get the larger share of the delta between the two parties' "bottom lines." See Making the First Offer here).
Now Galinksy and friends inform us that we are far more likely to reach a negotiated resolution to a conflict if we use our heads rather than our hearts. As It Pays reports:
Perspective-taking, according to the study published in the April 2008 issue of Psychological Science, a publication of the Association for Psychological Science, involves understanding and anticipating an opponent's interests, thoughts, and likely behaviors, whereas empathy focuses mostly on sympathy and compassion for another.
"Perspective takers are able to step outside the constraints of their own immediate, biased frames of reference," wrote the authors. "Empathy, however, leads individuals to violate norms of equity and equality and to provide preferential treatments."
The researchers performed a total of three studies designed to assess the relationship between successful negotiations and perspective-taking and empathy tendencies. In two of the studies, the participants negotiated the sale of a gas station where a deal based solely on price was impossible: the seller's asking price was higher than the buyer's limit. However, both parties' underlying interests were compatible, and so creative deals were possible. In the first study, those participants who scored highly on the perspective-taking portion of a personality inventory were more likely to successfully reach a deal. In contrast, higher scores on empathy led dyads to be less successful at reaching a creative deal.
Why Enlightened Self-Interest Trumps Sympathy
Just when you were about to stereotype "negotiated resolutions" as commie-pinko limp-wristed new age aquarian left-of-liberal kum-by-ya marshmellow toaster solutions to the problems of (excuse me fellas) real men -- along comes new research once again demonstrating that negotiation requires hard heads rather than soft hearts.
Because our competitive natures ("I need my stuff to survive") will almost always trump our collaborative inclinations ("we need each other to survive"). If this weren't so, the world wouldn't be divided into its current "pie pieces" -- the first, second and third worlds for instance.
More particularly, because distributive non-interest based bargaining is all about getting "our share" of a fixed pie while interest-based or integrative negotiations require the parties to: (1) learn about and attempt to satisfy their bargaining partners' often non-apparent needs and desires; and, (2) to collaborate in an effort to find ways to satisfy those needs and desires in novel and creative ways, reaching an integrative agreement becomes much more likely than reaching a purely distributive one.
Because the integrative deal will -- by its very nature -- serve more of both parties' interests than would its distributive counter-part.
Perspective-Taking, Sympathy and Foreclosure
I don't know my neighbors well. They have a small family with very young children and keep pretty much to themselves. I understand from the local grapevine, however, that they're selling their house because one of them lost their job and they can't make the mortgage payments.
If we lived in another country or if the neighborhood belonged to certain religious sects that make it their business to take care of their own, we might all come together to help the neighbors save their house. But we don't.
We have and express a lot of sympathy when we discuss our neighbors' plight. "Must be hard for the kids," we say, "and the parents have worked so hard to improve the property. It would be a shame if they lost their equity."
Our sympathy, however, does not lead us to trump our self-interest (which includes simply "keeping to ourselves") in favor of the interests of the neighbors.
If, however, we learned that the neighbors were about to sell the house to a local fraternity, you can put easy money on the neighborhood mobilizing into action to find a solution. And once the neighborhood starts looking for an affordable solution to a neighborhood problem, the chances that the interests of the distressed family and their (temporarily) better-off neighbors will intersect and that new resources will be brought to the table ("hey, George, I know a lawyer who specializes in these things" or a banker or a politician or a journalist for the L.A. Times) increase exponentially.
Heck, instead of hiring lawyers to stop the sale to the fraternity, we might put together an emergency neighborhood loan-fund. Or simply help find the unemployed neighbor a new job. There are a lot of resources in my neighborhood. And many good-hearted people. But I'm afraid modern American folk-ways just don't allow for a neighborhood solution to one of its member's problems. Until, that is, our own self-interests are threatened.
So it might seem counter-intuitive to say that mentally putting ourselves into another's shoes to ascertain their interests needs and desires (perspective-taking) is more likely to create a "deal" between people than simple sympathy.
But we didn't survive as a species because we're particularly loving. We survived as a species because its in our best interest -- our only interest -- to cooperate with one another.
Or, quite simply, we die.
Which reminds me that it's Earth Day. Make a contribution to the planet and our collective and individual survival as a species today by clicking on the image below!