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ChangingMinds Blog! > Blog Archive > 10-Jun-11


Friday 10-June-11

Expect positive negotiations

How do you negotiate? Many people either become quite assertive and competitive, or perhaps are too concerned about the relationship and and so make easy concessions. Both of these approaches have an underlying negative assumption about the other person -- that they will take advantage or be quick to punish. But is this really the case? And, in particular, does thinking this way handicap you?

Varda Liberman and colleagues got undergraduates to negotiate with a (stooge) postgraduate about the division of university funds between undergrad and post-grad students. Half of the undergrads were told that previous negotiations had reached agreement (positive expectation) and half told just to try their best (no expectation). The result was that all 17 of the positive expectation group reached agreement whilst only 5 out of 17 of the no expectation group agreed. Also, the positive group rated the offers made to them as fairer and were more satisfied with the outcome.

Another, tougher experiment got Jewish Israeli Business School students to negotiate with an Arab Israeli woman over the division of funds between Israel and Palestine. Again those who had expectations set of a positive outcome found far greater agreement (31/38 vs. 13/38) and were also happier with the outcome.

So why does positive expectation work? One reason is that the other party also gets viewed in a positive light, leading to greater trust and acceptance of their needs as legitimate. Also, raised expectations of success in the experiments led subjects to make a better counter-offer such that the gap between them and the other party was immediately smaller, making closure appear (and so become) more feasible.

Being positive does not mean blindly trusting the other party. Like a teacher who expects pupils to work hard, your expectation of a positive outcome will shape what you think and do, and hence also shape what the other side thinks and does.

The lessons are simple and hopeful: think well of others, expect success, and you will indeed succeed more often.

Liberman, V., Anderson, N., and Ross, L. (2010). Achieving difficult agreements: Effects of Positive Expectations on negotiation processes and outcomes. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 46 (3), 494-504


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