We recently talked to Patrick Dunlop about his article, "Personality and integrative negotiations: A HEXACO investigation of actor, partner, and actor-partner interaction effects on objective and subjective outcomes", which is scheduled to appear in an upcoming issue of the European Journal of Personality. Patrick is a senior lecturer at the University of Western Australia.
Read more about his article on the role of personality in interactive negotiations!
Q: Hi Patrick, what is your study about?
We were interested in examining how the personality traits agreeableness (A) and honesty-humility (H-H) from the HEXACO model relate to two types of outcomes of negotiations between two people. We looked at both ‘economic’ outcomes (how many points you were able to ‘win’ during the negotiation) and ‘subjective’ outcomes (whether you were satisfied with the negotiation and whether you’d be willing to negotiate again with that same partner).
The task we used involved the negotiation of the terms of an employment contract between an HR manager (a role played by one participant of a dyad) and a successful job applicant (a role played by the other; click here for the task instructions and materials). In short, there were seven contract terms that were up for negotiation: annual salary, annual raise, superannuation, allowances, leave entitlements, location, and length of contract. Each of these could take on one of five states and the number of points that a participant would ‘win’ was determined by the state of these seven terms in the final agreement. The points awarded for the contract’s terms were not structured in the same way; some of the terms were win-lose, meaning that the number of points one party won would come at an equivalent loss to the other party. One of the terms in our study was win-win (or lose-lose!), meaning that both parties want the same thing (a longer employment contract in our case). Finally, other terms could be integrated with one another to create mutual gain in points. For example, a new employee might be willing to sacrifice a higher raise if he or she can receive more flexible working hours, whereas the employer might be willing to offer flexible working hours if it means a reduction to an annual raise.
Negotiations like these are often called ‘mixed’ negotiations because they will likely involve some competition and some collaboration or cooperation. Because both types of behaviours were important, we were interested in examining agreeableness and honesty-humility as predictors of negotiation outcomes, as both traits have been implicated in competitive/exploitative behaviour and cooperative/trusting behaviour in economic game studies. We were especially interested to examine whether outcomes of negotiations might be shaped by the interactions between the two negotiators’ personalities. For example, whereas some research has suggested that agreeable people tend to do slightly worse in negotiations than disagreeable people, we wanted to test whether it might depend on the partners’ personality. In particular, we had thought that the effect of a negotiator’s tendency to acquiesce (i.e. their agreeableness) on negotiation outcomes might be contingent on the partner’s willingness to exploit that tendency (i.e., their honesty-humility).
An interesting finding was that more agreeable people actually achieved better outcomes from the negotiations than less agreeable people, but only when they were negotiating with people who were high on honesty-humility (HH), whereas they did worse when negotiating with people who were low on honesty-humility. In plain language, cooperative people do quite well when negotiating with ethical people (high HH) but do poorly when negotiating with unscrupulous people (low HH). Our hunch is that more ethical people tend to be more mindful that their partner gets a fair deal and that working out what a partner wants is easier if that partner is agreeable.
Another interesting finding was that people seemed to feel more satisfied with a negotiation when negotiating with a more ethical partner.
From an academic perspective, our study is one of the few in the negotiation space to investigate an interaction between actors and partners’ personality traits. The general idea is that, in a dyad, the impact that one person’s trait has on an outcome could depend on the traits of the other person. We focused on Agreeableness and Honesty-Humility because these traits have been shown to be important in determining people’s willingness to cooperate, exploit, retaliate, and acquiesce. These behaviours are likely to be highly relevant to negotiations, but they are also contingent on one another to some extent.
From a practical perspective, our findings suggest perhaps two important things. First, negotiators seem to enjoy negotiating with people who are higher on honesty-humility. Thus, sending an ethical negotiator to the bargaining table could lend itself to better long-term relationships with the counterpart. For example, we know from other research that a new employee’s early experiences with an employer have a substantial impact on their motivation, satisfaction and so on. While it might be tempting for an employer to send in its most ruthless negotiator to get the best deal when negotiating a new employee contract, doing so might damage the relationship between that employee and his or her new employer.
Second, while highly agreeable people get a bad rap for being “pushovers”, our results show that they can in fact do well in negotiations (better than disagreeable people) if their negotiating partner can be trusted to look out for the agreeable person’s interests. By contrast, disagreeableness seems to be an effective buffer or even countermeasure against unscrupulous negotiators. The implication here is that whether to send an agreeable or disagreeable person to negotiate could be best determined by considering the trustworthiness of the other negotiator.
Of course, we must be cautious about these interpretations as our study requires replication.
Q: What made you decide to study this topic?
Ever since I participated in a negotiation exercise in a tutorial back in the first year of my Masters of Industrial and Organisational Psychology, I became interested in negotiation behaviour! I am generally quite a hopeless negotiator and the topic has always been fascinating to me because I couldn’t understand why I was so bad at it.
Previous to that, I was fortunate enough to undertake my Honours dissertation project under the supervision of Professor Kibeom Lee, who was at the University of Western Australia at the time (now at the University of Calgary). That was in 2001, and the HEXACO model was still in its infancy at that stage. While my Honours study had very little to do with personality, in that year, I learned a lot from Prof Lee about the HEXACO model, and particularly the role that the HH factor plays in predicting ‘nasty’ behaviours. Indeed, the experience of working and studying with Prof Lee has shaped some of the research I do today. Anyway, I had been sitting on the idea of studying negotiation through the lens of the HEXACO model for years; the two traits HH and A just seemed so important to negotiations. As a fairly agreeable person myself, when negotiating with others, I do worry about being exploited by a disingenuous individual!
The recent publication of the meta-analysis by Dr Sudeep Sharma and his colleagues Professors William Bottom and Hilary Elfenbein that called for more personality-negotiation research finally prompted me to take the idea further and propose a study design. I later got the chance to test the idea out when one of my co-authors Ryan Ng approached me to supervise his Masters dissertation and expressed interest in the project. Finally, a visit from Clark Amistad, helped drive the paper forward.
I would dearly love to unpack some of the processes that we speculated on in future studies. For example, I want to know what, specifically, do unscrupulous negotiators do to get ahead, and how do disagreeable people react to these actions? Would we find evidence of trustworthy negotiators taking clear measures to ensure their partner’s interests are met?
Q: Where do you see yourself in the (near) future?
Next year, I will be moving into a new department (a Business School) where it may be easier to study negotiation behaviour through teaching opportunities. Also, I wanted to mention that my recent experience with EJP has taught me much about the open science movement. Indeed, I owe much of my understanding of the open science movement to the fourth co-author of this paper (Jeromy Anglim), who showed me the ropes, but I realise I still have a lot to learn. My plan is to use the Open Science Framework for all of my future studies. I will join the Society for the Improvement of Psychological Science (SIPS) in 2019 and now follow many of its members on Twitter; learning a lot from doing so!
Q: Do you have any advice for young researchers in the field?
Negotiation is a complex but fun topic to study. It can be difficult to collect data from dyads in controlled environments, and the statistics are daunting at first, but the topic has much intuitive appeal and psychology has a lot to offer to its study. It is a little tricky, but very interesting to study! I also encourage young researchers to invest some time in learning about open science practices.