Imagine that in a deal-making negotiation, the seller’s presumed bottom line is 30 million, which still outweigh the buyers’ best offer, say 28 million. This may lead to three potential outcomes. First, some people accept a no-deal, which is economically wise yet psychologically bothersome. Second, some people ignore their bottom lines and reach an otherwise economically worse off agreement. Third, some people reach a creative agreement, which is a solution compromises their presumed bottom lines but fulfills their underlying interests with additional terms.
Dr. Yao and his team found that one important factor to influence negotiators’ performance in such a seemingly impossible negotiation is people’ mental fatigue, i.e., how tired they feel after a long day office work. They found that mentally fatigued negotiators would tend to choose the first or the second options, which is either leaving the negotiation table or simply saying “OK, enough is enough, let’s sign the contract, even if I’m losing money.” Instead, mentally energetic negotiators tend to choose the third option, which is thinking out of the box and identifying a solution that makes both parties finally happy.
The underlying reasons that mental fatigue, but not physical fatigue, would compromise people’s negotiation performance are two-fold. First, mental fatigue would impair people’s cognitive capacity such as attention, action monitoring, and systematic strategy development when facing a complex problem. Second, mental fatigue would reduce people’s motivation to invest more cognitive energy, so that’s why we see people are more likely to give up.
So, how do mentally energetic negotiators come up with creative agreements? They found that negotiators in such condition would look into the issue with different perspectives or unpack the issue into different dimensions and then pack those dimensions or perspective back together. This thinking style is called integrative complexity, which encourages people to first think divergently and then think convergently, not the other way around.
The next time when you are stuck in a heated discussion or tough bargaining, you could consider applying this unpacking-and-then-packing-back style of thinking or simply ask for a break to refresh your mind. Keep negotiating after a long day may not get you an attractive deal, so why not go get some sleep and continue on this the next morning when you are mentally ready? Perhaps the solution is just around the corner.
To read the original article:
Yao, J., Zhang, Z.-X., Liu, L. A., (2020), When There is No ZOPA: Mental Fatigue, Integrative Complexity, and Creative Agreement in Negotiations, Negotiation and Conflict Management Research, in press.
Professor Jingjing Yao is one member of ICoN. You can find more information about ICoN team members here: