Negotiating in HR – Bolster Your Bargaining Power

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“You Say Tomato…I Say…” How Similarity Might Count More than Being Nice During Negotiations

Whether you are negotiating salary, corporate reorganization, or a sale, effective negotiation skills are critical.  A new study points out that negotiating success may have more to do with personality than talking points.

Common sense dictates that when you need to close a deal—either with a candidate, a client, or your corporate board—you send in your best, brightest, and most relational negotiator.  A study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology suggests a better idea might be to see what you are up against and then send in someone similar.

In the research from Michigan State University, researchers note personality has not largely been considered a major factor in negotiation success in recent years.  Studies that have waded into the personality issue have focused on the individual, like what personal qualities and strategies might bolster bargaining power and spur successful outcomes.

In this study, social researchers looked at the interaction between negotiators and how similarities—and dissimilarities—impact outcomes.  Study authors specifically chose to study the qualities of agreeableness and extraversion to investigate the “similarity-attraction theory.”  The idea is that we might find agreement more often when we are dealing with like-minded individuals.

Researchers worked with 202 undergraduate students who voluntarily completed a questionnaire and were assigned to mock-negotiation teams.  The negotiation exercise centered on discussing and agreeing upon the settlement of seven HR issues related to the merger of two fictitious companies.

At the conclusion of the mock exercises, study authors evaluated negotiating results based on personality features (including introversion and extraversion), questionnaire answers, and negotiating behaviors at the table.  A couple of interesting points emerged:

  • No secret sauce: An individual who was agreeable or extraverted did not necessarily have more success than someone without those traits.  The authors did not find a combination of specific traits within one individual that influenced success.
  • I’m a jerk, you’re a jerk: The study did find negotiators who matched, in terms of agreeableness (or lack of it), and extraversion (or lack of it) experienced more “positive emotional displays.”
  • It works: Similarity of attributes between negotiators “led to shorter negotiations, less relationship conflict, and more positive evaluations of the other negotiator.”

The authors suggest these findings can impact any setting where negotiation takes place.  For companies trying to resolve large issues, choosing representatives that display similar levels of agreeableness or extroversion (a lot or a little), could lead to faster, more favorable negotiations and better results.

For decisions, collaborations, and teamwork within a company, mixing and matching the personality characteristics of employees could be useful, while avoiding creativity-killing homogeneity.  This research also offers insight into the bias that occurs when a hiring manager is naturally more comfortable with applicants who have similar personality tendencies.

For talent, the research makes it clear that paying careful attention to the cues of those in a position to hire, fire, or reward is important.  These findings also offer motivation to reach past the comfort zone to find common ground with candidates, or co-workers, and others who may have different personality tendencies.

In the meantime, if you are in HR and asked to assemble a negotiating team, try to find out who the other company is sending in. Opposites may attract, but like-minded individuals may get the job done faster.