Enjoying Your Work
Naivete can derail negotiations
Having set a goal that labor costs must be reduced, the company for which Lester Martin served as a vice president considered importing goods from China rather than manufacturing them in the United States.
Lester's company manufactured and marketed specialized protective clothing products for industries such as home pest extermination, asbestos removal, and laboratory work for technicians who worked with potentially dangerous microorganisms. Traveling to Shanghai, Lester met with executives of various Chinese organizations in the hopes of obtaining an agreement for a joint venture. He felt that he had a good business plan that would be attractive to his Chinese counterparts. He pointed out the number of jobs that would be created in Shanghai and the high quality of the housing development he proposed for Chinese workers. Lester was disappointed that the Chinese executives did not share his vision.
The University of Amsterdam's Carsten De Dreu has identified biases in people's thinking that are especially troublesome during negotiations. Lester may have succumbed to both.
One bias is called ego defensiveness. People want to maintain a positive self-view of themselves. They want to view themselves as reasonable individuals who think carefully about problems and who make good decisions. In Lester's case, this positive self evaluation would include the ability to develop a good business plan that would bring benefits both to his company and to any Chinese company that enters into a joint venture.
Given that Lester had had success in his own country, rising to the level of a company vice-president, he would be especially anxious to protect his positive self-image.
One way to protect this image is to view others who seem uninterested in his proposal as unreasonable, overly competitive, and incompetent to make good decisions. If Lester feels this way, he is likely to communicate his negative feelings in the course of negotiations with his Chinese counterparts. Since the counterparts also have healthy egos and positive self-evaluations, they may reciprocate the negative feelings. After several rounds of such communications between Lester and his counterparts, the negotiations are likely to spiral into intense negativity. Eventually, they may break down before any agreements are reached.
Another bias in thinking is called naive realism. Negotiations about complex matters are always difficult and stressful. One way that people attempt to cut through the complexity is to simplify the issues under discussion. They can do this by developing a view of reality that is based on the assumption that everyone thinks like they do. Further, they feel that if others don't share their views, then these others are ignorant and unmotivated to contribute to positive changes.
Of course, this is naïve: Different people think in a wide variety of ways and have diverse opinions.
In Lester's case, he is assuming that his views of what his company can offer China are exactly what the Chinese counterparts want. Lester points to the number of jobs that will be created and the quality of his proposed housing development. The Chinese may be interested in other aspects of a possible joint venture. They may be interested in the amount of job security workers will have and the site of manufacturing plant. The Chinese may be interested in a plant that will be built in a rural area if they feel that Shanghai is overcrowded and that too many people have moved to the city from small villages.
The problems brought on by ego defensiveness and naive realism can be lessened if negotiators adopt strategies that encourage cooperation and an understanding of their counterparts' viewpoints.
This will be the subject of next week's column.
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The purpose of this column is to increase understanding of human behavior as it has an impact on the workplace. Given the amount of time people spend at work, job satisfaction should ideally be high and it should contribute to general life happiness. Enjoyment can increase as people learn more about workplace psychology, communication, and group influences.
Richard Brislin is a professor in the College of Business Administration, University of Hawaii. He can be reached through the College Relations Office: firstname.lastname@example.org