Issues in Negotiation

Learning Outcomes

  • Identify issues in negotiating

As you might guess, negotiations don’t always go smoothly. Before you step into a negotiation, you’ll want to understand what kind of issues could throw a wrench into the bargaining machinery and how others manage those variables. Let’s take a look at some common issues that contemporary negotiators face, and how they can be overcome.


If “talent is just personality in the right place,” then what are the right and wrong kinds of personality traits for negotiation? Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, professor of business psychology at University of London and Columbia University, suggests that high emotional intelligence is key if a negotiator is going to be successful. Emotional intelligence is the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically.

In his article, “The Personality Traits of Good Negotiators,” for the Harvard Business Review, Chamorro-Premuzic cites people who show neurotic tendencies and “Machiavellianism” (a term that describes a person’s tendency to exploit and manipulate others) as those who can expect to experience less attractive results at the negotiation table.

If the process is followed and strategic considerations are made for the problem and people involved, personality should neither help nor hinder the negotiation process.


Men and women don’t necessarily negotiate differently; studies show that men negotiate slightly better outcomes than women do in the same situations, but the difference is often nominal. Continued emphasis is placed on collaborative, integrative negotiation, and both men and women can succeed with this approach. But there is evidence that gender affects the outcome of bargaining. Why is that?

Statistically speaking, women tend to fall short of their male counterparts is when they’re negotiating for themselves; however, research has shown that when women negotiate for others, they often outperform men. What’s the trick to getting past this? Fatimah Gilliam, founder and CEO of The Azara Group, a leadership development and strategy consulting business, offered advice on overcoming this hurdle in an article for University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business. “Change your perspective…think beyond yourself,” she said. “You’re negotiating for your family. You’re negotiating, if it’s compensation, so that you can have more money to take care of your parents when they’re old, right?”

Research also shows that women have less confidence in their negotiation abilities, which may lead to hesitation to engage in negotiation practices. Women penalize themselves by avoiding these situations when engagement is in their best interest.

Cultural Differences

Negotiation styles vary across cultures, and it’s helpful to keep in mind cultural differences when engaging in negotiations. While we don’t want to risk sounding stereotypical, here are some examples of how different cultures approach negotiation:

  • Italians, Germans, and French don’t “soften up” a party in the negotiation with praise, and hearing another party do this seems manipulative to them.
  • The French enjoy conflict, so they tend to be longer in the negotiation process and aren’t terribly concerned with whether the other party likes them.
  • The Chinese also draw out negotiations because their belief is that they never end, so when parties from other cultures feel like they’re coming to a conclusion, the Chinese party may just decide to start over.
  • Japanese negotiators work to develop relationships, so tying up loose ends and details in an agreement may have no importance to them.
  • The British often complain that their U.S. counterparts talk too much.
  • Indian executives often interrupt each other, and when other parties are listening intently and not interrupting, they feel as though they aren’t being heard.
  • Americans mix business and personal lives, and other cultures compartmentalize them, so when Americans ask, “How was your weekend?” it can seem intrusive to other cultures.
  • Russians ignore deadlines and make no concessions because they view concessions as a sign of weakness.

The cultural aspect of negotiation significantly affects the amount of time for preparation and planning, so the negotiator can determine how to handle these cultural differences.

Negotiations are often difficult even when there are no obstacles involved, but being aware of issues triggered by personality, gender and culture can help the parties overcome  them and deal with the matter at hand.

Unethical Negotiations

When a person is in a negotiation process to get something he or she needs, ethical concerns may surface. How far do you go to get what you want? Should you always tell the truth and reveal your plan, or does doing so compromise your position? Difficult questions like these arise often in negotiations.

Some unethical (or at least questionable) behaviors that often occur during negotiations include:

  • Selective disclosure: highlighting positive information and downplaying (or omitting) negative information
  • Misrepresentation: negotiators misstate facts or misstate their position (e.g., they are willing to accept a lower price than they originally stated)
  • Deception and lying: negotiators provide factually incorrect information that leads to incorrect conclusions
  • False threats and false promises: negotiators mislead the other party as to actions they might take at the end of the negotiation process
  • Inflicting direct or indirect harm: negotiators intentionally sabotage the other party’s chances of success

Just because something is unethical does not mean that it’s illegal. A lot of unethical behavior is still on the right side of the law. The most you can do to monitor ethical behavior in a negotiation is to bring it to the table yourself and be willing to say no and walk away if the other party does not.

Mistakes in Negotiation

Preparation and planning are key in avoiding common negotiation mistakes, but even the most experienced negotiator can still make them. Perceptual bias and poor decisions account for most of them. Let’s look at a couple:

  • Winner’s curse. This is when a negotiator makes a high offer quickly and it’s accepted just as quickly, making the negotiator feel as though he is being cheated. Lack of information and expertise are chief among the issues that cause this mistake.
  • Mythical fixed pie. The negotiator assumes that what’s good for the other side is bad for his side. For instance, imagine that two parties that want an orange. If a negotiator makes the mythical-fixed-pie mistake, he divides that orange in half and gives each party a piece. He’s let competitiveness get in the way of coming up with a creative solution, and if he’d listened, he’d have understood that one party wanted the meat of the orange and the other wanted the rind.
  • Overconfidence. The negotiator puts too much stock in his ability to be correct, and thus uses high anchors for his initial offers and adjustments. His lack of information and distorted self-perception will cost him a fairly negotiated deal.
  • Irrational escalation of commitment. This is when the negotiator continues a course of action long after it’s been proven to be the wrong choice. Causes of this include an insatiable need to win and ego, and it shows a lack of commitment to actually arriving at a fair deal.

Again, preparation and planning can help a negotiator avoid these issues, but practice is another way to get better at avoiding mistakes!

Practice question