This article comes from the Harvard Law School Program on Negotiation Daily Blog, written by Katie Shonk, 9/21/2015. According to Donald Trump, when dealing with difficult people and engaging in difficult conversations, the best way to get the upper hand in a negotiation is to try to out-dominate the other party. By using his competitive approach to negotiation, Trump says he would strong-arm the government of Mexico into funding a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border.
However, Trump’s insistence that the best way to deal with difficult people and groups is through a dominant and tough negotiating style is contradicted by new negotiation research that suggests that a more nuanced approach works better.
In an article in the July issue of Negotiation and Conflict Management Research, Scott Wiltermuth, University of Southern California, L.A. and Larissa Z. Tiedens and Margaret Neale of Stanford University, had pairs of study participants engage in complex negotiation simulations over either the merger of two companies or a job offer. Some participants were instructed to display dominance by using expansive body postures and taking the lead in the conversation. Others were told to display deference to their counterpart by using constrictive body postures and working to make sure the dominant party felt respected. Still others in a control group, received no such instructions about their negotiating style.
The results? Pairs in which one negotiator behaved dominantly and the other submissively (as instructed) reached the best deals, as measured using a point system. These pairs of complementary-style negotiators outperformed pairs made up of same-style negotiators, including two dominant negotiators, two submissive negotiators, and two control-group negotiators. The dominant/submissive pairs achieved their superior success thanks to their complementary communication styles, in which more dominant negotiators expressed their preferences directly and the submissive ones asked questions.
Notably, those with the more submissive style didn’t sacrifice their own needs for those of their counterparts. Rather, they met their own needs by subtly determining, through questioning, how they could help both sides meet their goals and interests. Their more submissive style brought the parties together by helping their more dominant counterparts feel respected, competent, and understood. (Mike’s comment: The strategy of making the other party feel respected, competent and understood always works well regardless of the negotiation styles).
The lesson of the study isn’t that is always pays to adopt a submissive, deferential negotiating style. Rather, the results suggest that we can all benefit from assessing the negotiation style of our counterpart and seeking a communication style that complements and harmonizes with theirs.
This month’s quote: “A negotiator should observe everything. You must be part Sherlock Holmes, part Sigmund Freud.”