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Avoiding the Agreement Trap: Teams Facilitate Impasse in Negotiations with Negative Bargaining Zones

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The agreement trap occurs when negotiators reach deals that are inferior to their best alternative agreements. The paper extends prior negotiation research by investigating whether teams display greater wisdom than solos in knowing when to walk away from the negotiating table, and thereby avoid the agreement trap. Two experiments compared teams and solos in a negotiation in which reaching agreement was unwise because of misaligned interests. The negotiation involved a real-estate transaction in which the optimal solution was for the parties to declare an impasse. Study 1 found that two- and three-person teams were significantly more likely than solos to impasse. Study 2 found that the party faced with the greater need to make accurate judgments about the alignment between their own and their counterpart’s interests benefited most from the addition of a teammate. These findings offer insight into why the agreement trap occurs and how it can be reduced.
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Avoiding the Agreement Trap: Teams Facilitate
Impasse in Negotiations with Negative Bargaining
Zones
Taya R. Cohen,
1
Geoffrey J. Leonardelli,
2
and Leigh Thompson
3
1 Tepper School of Business, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA, U.S.A.
2 Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada
3 Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL,U.S.A.
Keywords
agreement bias, agreement
trap, negotiation, impasse,
teams, groups.
Correspondence
Taya R. Cohen, Ph.D., Tepper
School of Business, Carnegie
Mellon University, 5000 Forbes
Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15213,
U.S.A.; e-mail: tcohen@cmu.
edu.
Abstract
The agreement trap occurs when negotiators reach deals that are infe-
rior to their best alternative agreements. This article extends prior
negotiation research by investigating whether teams display greater wis-
dom than solos in knowing when to walk away from the negotiating
table and thereby avoid the agreement trap. Two experiments com-
pared teams and solos in a negotiation in which reaching agreement
was unwise because of misaligned interests. The negotiation involved a
real estate transaction in which the optimal solution was for the parties
to declare an impasse. Study 1 found that two- and three-person teams
were significantly more likely than solos to impasse. Study 2 found that
the party faced with the greater need to make accurate judgments
about the alignment between their own and their counterpart’s inter-
ests benefited most from the addition of a teammate. These findings
offer insight into why the agreement trap occurs and how it can be
reduced.
“The art of leadership is not saying Yes, it’s saying No.” Tony Blair (cited in Ury, 2007, p. 4)
Effective negotiation requires understanding not only how to “get to yes” but also how and when to
say no. However, since the publication of Fisher and Ury’s (1981) seminal negotiation book, Getting to
Yes, negotiation research has focused almost exclusively on helping people reach agreements, whereas
relatively less research has investigated factors that help parties identify when it is better to impasse. In
fact, when negotiation impasses are discussed, they are usually framed as shortcomings or failures
(O’Connor & Arnold, 2001) that can potentially be solved by correcting biases (Babcock & Loewen-
stein, 1997) or bargaining rationally (Roth, 1995). However, it is not always desirable or advantageous
to reach a deal. For example, Raiffa (1982) argued that if a negotiator has better alternatives outside of
the present negotiation then it would be foolish for him or her to ignore those attractive alternatives
A prior version of this article was presented at the June 2010 conference of the International Association for Conflict Management
(IACM) in Boston, MA. Special thanks to Chris Bauman, Aletha Claussen-Schulz, Louisa Egan, Adam Galinsky, Elizabeth Seeley
Howard, Sei Jin Ko, Denise Lewin-Loyd, Paul Martorana, and Roderick Swaab for providing data from their MBA classes. This work
was supported by the Dispute Resolution Research Center at Northwestern University, and by a standard research grant to the
second author from Canada’s Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.
Negotiation and Conflict Management Research
Volume 7, Number 4, Pages 232–242
232 ©2014 International Association for Conflict Management and Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
in favor of a less desirable settlement. Similarly, Fisher and Ury (1981) made the point that knowing
when to walk away from the table is just as important as knowing when to secure a deal.
The agreement trap (also called the agreement bias) occurs when negotiators reach agreements that are
inferior to their best alternatives (Thompson & Leonardelli, 2004). If a proposed deal does not meet or
exceed the value that could be gained from a negotiator’s Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement
(BATNA; Fisher & Ury, 1981), then no deal should be reached. However, negotiators often fail to evalu-
ate the value of agreement relative to their BATNA, sometimes because of irrational escalation of com-
mitment (Bazerman & Neale, 1992).
The agreement trap often occurs when there is a negative bargaining zonesituations in which mutual
agreement is not viable because parties’ interests cannot simultaneously be met. For example, there is a
negative bargaining zone when the most a buyer is willing to pay is less than the seller is willing to accept.
Likewise, there is a negative bargaining zone when parties’ interests cannot be aligned, such as when a
buyer’s proposed use of an object or service is deemed inappropriate by the seller. Parties’ interests are
the fundamental core from which negotiation is either desirable or not (Fisher & Ury, 1981). Parties who
reach deals in negotiations with negative bargaining zones are victims of the agreement trap.
Negatively aligned interests may be particularly difficult to identify when, on the surface, such negotia-
tions may appear to offer favorable opportunities for agreement. For example, consider the summer
internship process. Summer interns may be willing to accept demeaning jobs for little pay under the
assumption that the organization will later offer a better position in terms of pay, work, and permanence.
However, some organizations may not be interested in permanently hiring their summer help and allow
the intern to hold a faulty belief. Such a negotiation fails to meet the interests of both parties and creates
a particular burden on one of the parties (the intern in this case) to identify that the better outcome,
rather than agreement, is impasse. Negotiations in which a negative bargaining zone over interests exists
and one negotiator seeks disclosure about interests from a party motivated to conceal interests are all too
common.
Such negotiations pose an informational burden for the negotiator seeking disclosure. For these nego-
tiators, the other party’s evasion may be interpreted as evidence of a negative bargaining zone on inter-
ests. Yet, it may also be easy for the negotiator seeking disclosure to innocently infer that the other party
may have revealed their interests but did not communicate them clearly.
Ambiguity and doubt about the other party’s motives may be compounded by additional temptations
for the party to reach agreement. One reason that negotiators may reach agreement, which they could
later regret, is traced to the escalation of commitment bias, which posits that once people embark on a
course of action and invest time, money, and energy, they are reluctant to withdraw (Staw, 1976).
Another reason why negotiators may reach agreement is that they regard themselves to be interdepen-
dent with the other party (Howard, Gardner, & Thompson, 2007). For example, one-on-one negotiators
are more likely to reach deals and compromise their interests than are teams in dispute situations,
because teams feel interdependent with their teammate but solos feel interdependent with the counter-
party (Howard et al., 2007). The temptation to reach agreementwhether as a result of escalation of
commitment, perceptions of interdependence, or bothcan leave negotiators with agreements that are
worse than their alternatives.
Teams, as opposed to solo (individual) negotiators, may serve as an antidote to the agreement trap.
Decades of social psychology have revealed that teams are generally better than individuals at solving
complex problems (Hackman & Katz, 2010; Hill, 1982; Kerr & Tindale, 2004). Likewise, in negotiations,
a consistent body of research indicates that teams, as compared to individuals, are more likely to craft
integrative agreements (Morgan & Tindale, 2002; Polzer, 1996; Thompson, Peterson, & Brodt, 1996).
Specifically, teams have a strong advantage over solo negotiators when there are multiple issues on the
table and a high degree of unshared information (Morgan & Tindale, 2002; Polzer, 1996; Thompson
et al., 1996). Behavioral analyses of teams versus solos reveal that teams ask more questions, share more
information, and make more accurate judgments of counterparty’s interests, preferences, and priorities.
Volume 7, Number 4, Pages 232–242 233
Cohen et al. Agreement Trap
This research suggests that teams, as compared to solos, are more skilled at uncovering parties’ interests
and integrating information to fashion joint gains (see Cohen & Thompson, 2011 for a review of when
teams are an asset versus a liability in negotiations).
Given the observation that teams are more likely to develop accurate judgments about parties’
interests and fashion integrative agreements (e.g., Thompson et al., 1996), we conjecture that teams
might be particularly adept at realizing when parties’ interests are fundamentally incompatible. In
short, previous research has established that teams are superior to individuals in terms of formulating
accurate perceptions of parties’ interests and crafting integrative agreements through logrolling. Teams
might also be adept at quickly determining when parties’ interests are so fundamentally misaligned
that reaching agreement is not advisable. To test this hypothesis, we conducted two experiments com-
paring impasse rates among teams and solos in a negotiation in which reaching agreement was unwise
because of severely misaligned interests. Because of the negative bargaining zone on interests, the opti-
mal solution was to declare an impasse and seek superior alternatives outside the negotiation. We pre-
dicted that negotiating teams would be more likely than solos to impasse and would thereby avoid
the agreement trap.
Study 1
Study 1 compared solo and team negotiators’ likelihood of exhibiting the agreement trap. Our key pre-
diction was that teams would be markedly superior to solos in contexts where there is incompatibility
between the parties’ interests, with the reasoning that teams would be more likely to impasse because
they are better able to uncover the misalignment of interests. One interesting question is whether a dyad
(two-person team) is sufficient to identify interests-based disagreement or whether additional teammates
(such as a three-person team) continue to improve the team’s ability to identify impasse. On the one
hand, social psychological research on group problem-solving has found that larger groups are more
likely to reach correct judgments in demonstrable decision-making tasks (Laughlin, Hatch, Silver, &
Boh, 2006; Michaelsen, Watson, and Black, 1989). After all, the more people processing the information
from the other party, the more capable the team might be to identify impasse. However, studies of two-
person and three-person teams within the negotiation literature have found similar patterns vis-
a-vis
their differences with solos (cf. Morgan & Tindale, 2002; Polzer, 1996; Thompson et al., 1996). Increas-
ing team size may be more useful as problems become increasingly more complex, but on average, the
information processing gains a negotiating party receives from having just a single additional teammate
may be sufficient, holding the difficulty of the problem constant.
Likewise, studies within the interindividualintergroup discontinuity literature that compare coopera-
tive and competitive behavior among solos versus teams of varying sizes have found no reliable differ-
ences due to team size (McGlynn, Harding, & Cottle, 2009). Indeed, the phenomenon is called a
discontinuity effect precisely because the difference between solos and teams is not a linear function based
on party size, but rather a clear break between interpersonal interactions, which tend to be cooperative,
and intergroup interactions, which tend to be competitive (Insko, Wildschut, & Cohen, 2013; Wildschut
& Insko, 2007; Wildschut, Pinter, Vevea, Insko, & Schopler, 2003).
Overall, then, the study tested whether, in a negotiation when parties’ interests are incompatible,
three- or two-person teams would be more effective than solos at identifying impasse. We expected that
teams would be more likely to impasse as compared to solos, but two-person and three-person teams
would be similarly successful at reaching an impasse.
Method
A total of 1022 MBA students from two universities completed the Bullard Houses negotiation as an in-
class exercise (Karp et al., 2008; for previous uses of this exercise in research, see Cohen, Wolf, Panter, &
Volume 7, Number 4, Pages 232–242234
Agreement Trap Cohen et al.
Insko, 2011; Kern & Chugh, 2009).
1
All students completed the exercise with other students from their
own university. Participants were randomly assigned to a seller role or a buyer role, and those assigned
to a team condition were randomly grouped with other students in their class. Participants were assigned
to negotiate in one of three formats: one-on-one, two-on-two, or three-on-three. We denote these three
formats as team size (solo, dyad, triad). All parties were assigned a counterpart of the same team size as
their own (N=319 negotiation groups).
Role materials (i.e., buyer or seller) were given to participants one week prior to the negotiation.
Unbeknownst to participants, the buyer and seller had incompatible interests. The buyers were explicitly
instructed to not reveal their intended use of the property purchase under any circumstances. In contrast,
the sellers were instructed to only sell the property to a known buyer who fully disclosed the planned use
of the property. Thus, the key interest of the seller (sell to a known buyer who completely reveals their
intended plans) and the buyer (be evasive and not reveal any plans) created a negative bargaining zone
for parties’ interests. Parties to the negotiation were given approximately one hour to negotiate at the
end of which they completed a report indicating whether they reached an agreement, and if yes, what
terms, and if no, why not.
Results
The key analysis involved examining impasse (no deal) rates for the solos, two-person teams, and three-
person teams. Impasse rates were submitted to a logistic regression with team size as a three-level cate-
gorical predictor. This analysis yielded a significant effect of team size, Wald v
2
(2, N=319) =12.59,
p=.002. As shown in Figure 1, impasse rates were lower in the solo condition (30%) than in the dyad
(56%) or triad conditions (47%). We explored the team effect with two orthogonal contrasts (included
in the regression model simultaneously): (c1) solos versus teams (solos coded .67; dyads coded .33; tri-
ads coded .33); and (c2) dyads versus triads (dyads coded .50; triads coded .50; solos coded 0). These
contrasts revealed that (c1) solos were significantly less likely to impasse than teams (b=0.90,
SE =0.25, p<.001, odds ratio =0.41) and (c2) two-person and three-person teams did not significantly
differ (b=0.33, SE =0.41, p=.42, odds ratio =1.39).
30% 56% 47%
0%
10%
20%
30%
40%
50%
60%
70%
Solo/Solo Dyad/Dyad Triad/Triad
Impasse Rates
Figure 1. Study 1 (N=319 negotiation groups): Impasse rates as a function of team size.
1
We used the Bullard Houses negotiation simulation for two key reasons. First and foremost, it is an established and popular
role-playing exercise in which base rates for agreement are well known among negotiations instructors. Second, it is based on a
real-world situation (the Villard Houses in New York City) and thus provides a compelling case of surface validity for both
participants and for generalizing results.
Volume 7, Number 4, Pages 232–242 235
Cohen et al. Agreement Trap
Discussion
As predicted, teams were more likely to reach impasse than were solos. Both two-person and three-
person teams were significantly more likely than solos to impasse, and there were no significant differ-
ences between two- and three-person teams. These results provide initial evidence of a team effect in
inhibiting the agreement trap and demonstrate its generalizability with teams of different sizes. These
results are consistent with Thompson et al.’s (1996) argument that even two-person teams are adept at
accurately identifying interests. Study 2 sought to more firmly establish support for this claim.
Study 2
Study 1 established support for the hypothesis that teams are more successful than solos at avoiding the
agreement trap. In Study 2, we sought to replicate and extend the findings of Study 1 by varying the size
of buyer and seller teams separately. There is an information asymmetry in the Bullard Houses simula-
tion. The seller’s role requires the participant in that role to learn more information from the other party
than vice versa. Namely, participants in the seller role are clearly told that satisfying their clients’ interests
(and therefore their own interests in the simulation) requires that they discover who the buyer is (i.e.,
the identity of the client who their counterparty is representing) and to learn the buyer’s plans and
intended use of the property. This instruction puts an informational burden on those in the seller role.
Conversely, the buyer is simply told to be evasive and reveal as little information as possible.
Given that negotiating teams are better at information diagnosis than solos (e.g., Polzer, 1996; Thomp-
son et al., 1996) and that, in this study, it falls upon the seller to diagnose the buyer’s identity and plans,
a seller team more so than a solo negotiator, should show the team effect. Accordingly, we hypothesized
that a seller team would be pivotal for reaching impasse in the Bullard Houses negotiation. Thus, a seller
size main effect was our primary prediction.
Study 2 also allowed us to explore what a buyer team might do to the impasse rates. We thought a
number of possible outcomes on buyer size might occur. On the one hand, it is possible that, while teams
are better than solos at diagnosing interests, they might also be better at hiding their own interests. After
all, if they are better at diagnosing it, perhaps they are also better at hiding it. However, it is equally plau-
sible that the reverse could occur. Hiding information requires greater degrees of coordination among
team members, and having more than one person at the table means there are more people to potentially
reveal secrets, give tells, or otherwise act suspiciously. One suspicious person or team interaction at the
negotiating table could cause the other party to distrust the team entirely and thus walk away from the
table (Naquin & Kurtzberg, 2009). We examined these more exploratory ideas about buyer teams versus
solos as well in the following study.
Method
A total of 218 MBA students completed the Bullard Houses negotiation (N=73 negotiation groups). As
in Study 1, one week prior to negotiating, students were randomly assigned to a seller role or a buyer
role. In addition, each student was randomly assigned to negotiate as a solo or as a two-person team.
Because Study 1 revealed no significant difference between two-member and three-member teams, and
we had no hypotheses regarding team size, all teams in Study 2 contained two members.
Results
The key analysis compared four configurations–team buyers versus team sellers; solo buyers versus solo
sellers; solo buyers versus team sellers; and solo sellers versus team buyers. The key hypothesis was that
Volume 7, Number 4, Pages 232–242236
Agreement Trap Cohen et al.
seller teams would be more likely to discover incompatible interests and declare impasse as compared to
solo sellers, thereby avoiding a bad deal. In a 2 (buyer size: solo vs. team) 92(seller size: solo vs. team)
logistic regression analysis (teams coded .5; solos coded .5), our hypothesis would be supported by a
significant main effect for seller size. Indeed, this is what we found.
Consistent with predictions, the analysis revealed a significant main effect of seller size (b=1.96,
SE =0.60, p=.001, odds ratio =7.06), indicating that negotiations in which the seller was a team were
seven times as likely to result in impasse as compared to negotiations in which the seller was a solo. The
buyer size main effect (b=0.64, SE =0.60, p=.29, odds ratio =1.89) and the Seller Size 9Buyer Size
interaction (b=0.34, SE =1.20, p=.78, odds ratio =1.41) were nonsignificant. Figure 2 displays these
results. Impasse rates were highest in the team-buyer versus team-seller condition (61%), followed
by solo-buyer versus team-seller condition (41%), team-buyer versus solo-seller condition (16%), and
solo-buyer versus solo-seller condition (11%).
Discussion
Consistent with our proposal that the agreement trap is, at least in part, attributable to faulty judgment
about the other party’s interests, Study 2 demonstrated that a team in the role with greater need to make
accurate judgments about the alignment between their own and their counterpart’s interests (i.e., the
seller role in the Bullard Houses exercise) was critical for increasing the likelihood of impasse. Negotia-
tions in which the seller was a team were seven times as likely to result in impasse as negotiations in
which the seller was a solo. These findings suggest that the agreement trap is due, at least in part, to solo
negotiators making less accurate judgments of the counterparties’ interests as compared to negotiating
teams.
Interestingly, there was a trend for buyer teams to impasse more than buyer solos. However, this dif-
ference failed to reach conventional levels of significance, indicating that negotiations in which the buyer
was a team were statistically just as likely to result in agreement as compared to negotiations between
two solos.
General Discussion
Results from two experiments indicated that teams facilitate impasse in negotiations with negative bar-
gaining zones. These findings extend prior negotiation research by empirically demonstrating that teams
are not only better than solos at creating and claiming value in multiissue negotiations with positive bar-
gaining zones (Morgan & Tindale, 2002; Polzer, 1996; Thompson et al., 1996), they are also better at
11% 16% 41% 61%
0%
10%
20%
30%
40%
50%
60%
70%
Solo-Buyer /
Solo-Seller
Tea m- Buy er /
Solo-Seller
Solo-Buyer /
Team-Seller
Team-Buyer /
Team-Seller
Impasse Rates
Figure 2. Study 2 (N=73 negotiation groups): Impasse rates as a function buyer and seller size. Teams had two members.
Volume 7, Number 4, Pages 232–242 237
Cohen et al. Agreement Trap
avoiding the agreement trap in negotiations with negative bargaining zones. Moreover, this research
offers insight into why the agreement trap occurs and how it can be reduced.
Study 1 found that the addition of a single teammate on each side was sufficient for generating inter-
est-based disagreement between teams and solos, as evidenced by greater impasse rates in a negotiation
in which it was better for the parties to impasse because of conflicting interests. Study 2 extended these
findings by providing evidence consistent with the faulty judgment explanation for the trap. Consistent
with this explanation, the party faced with the information-acquisition demands benefited the most from
the addition of a teammate. This finding suggests that the greater judgment capabilities of teams make
them better equipped than solos to avoid the agreement trap.
Our findings suggest one factor underlying the agreement trap (faulty judgment) and a potential solu-
tion (greater information processing capability via teams). Such an interpretation is consistent both with
past studies of team negotiations and information processing (e.g., Thompson et al., 1996) and the evi-
dence collected here. Mutually agreeable impasse might have been easier to identify in the Bullard
Houses negotiation had both parties been allowed to share information openly and explicitly, but such
an allowance may have precluded the need for a team for additional information processing.
Other circumstances entailing a negative bargaining zone over interests may also benefit from the
greater information processing capabilities that teams can provide. Consider, for example, the potential
merger between two companies. Often, such mergers are mutually agreeable to both parties for various
reasons, not the least of which would be the economies of scale. However, such mergers may face risks of
being dissolved; for example, antitrust legislation in the United States gives the Federal Trade Commis-
sion and the Justice Department the authority to prevent mergers that risk creating monopolies or con-
trolling trusts in a particular industry. If such mergers will ultimately be prevented by government
agencies, impasse is a better alternative than agreement. Such downstream consequences may be harder
for individual negotiators to identify, in which case, teams may serve to more successfully identify inter-
est-based disagreement than solo negotiators.
In addition to faulty judgment or insufficient information processing, there are undoubtedly other
sources of the agreement trap. For example, the trap could result from negotiators personal image con-
cerns or basic fundamental needs. Negotiators may have deal-maker identities, and failing to reach a deal
could threaten their sense of self-efficacy (O’Connor & Arnold, 2001); they may prefer to be seen as deal-
maker not deal-breakers. Another possibility is that the agreement trap also stems from concerns solo
negotiators have with being liked or socially accepted by the counterpartyconcerns that teams are unli-
kely to experience (Howard et al., 2007). The desire for social acceptance is one of the strongest motiva-
tions guiding human behavior (e.g., Baumeister & Leary, 1995; Fiske, 2004; Leonardelli, Pickett, &
Brewer, 2010). Concern with being accepted by the counterparty could push solo negotiators to
(unwisely) reach agreements because impasses are socially awkward and even detrimental to negotiators’
relationships (O’Connor & Arnold, 2001). The common expressions “failure to reach agreement” and
“failed to come to terms” smack of personal and social shortcomings.
Although it is unclear how a negotiating team might affect the agreement trap resulting from a deal-
maker identity, teams may be effective for regulating the impact that a need for acceptance has on the
agreement trap. Team negotiators are less likely to feel pressure to be accepted by the counterparty
because they can satisfy their need for social approval via their teammates (Howard et al., 2007).
2
The
group polarization effect also might contribute to this phenomenon in that team members might be
more likely to have stronger attitudes about reaching impasse because of informational and social influ-
ence (Main & Walker, 1973). From this point of view, teams may also prevent the agreement trap when
it might otherwise result from a need for acceptance.
2
We point out, however, that the buyerseller difference observed in Study 2 cannot be explained by the idea that solo negotia-
tors are more concerned with social acceptance than are team negotiators.
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Agreement Trap Cohen et al.
Moreover, team members might even gain greater social approval by acting tough and intransigent
(Cho, Overbeck, & Carnevale, 2011; Cohen, Montoya, & Insko, 2006; Wildschut, Insko, & Gaertner,
2002). Indeed, teams are more competitive and less cooperative than individuals (Insko et al., 2013;
Wildschut & Insko, 2007; Wildschut et al., 2003). And members of teams who display resolve and adopt
extreme ingroup-favoring views are held in higher regard by their constituencies who hold similar views
(Abrams, Marques, Bown, & Henson, 2000). The competitiveness of teams is likely to give teams an
advantage in avoiding the agreement trap, but this competitiveness could be a liability when reaching
agreement is a wise course of action.
We have boldly asserted on the basis of previous research that teams are able to reach more inte-
grative agreements than solo negotiators when it is clear that a positive bargaining zone exists (see
Cohen & Thompson, 2011 for a review). In our current empirical studies, we have demonstrated that
teams are able to exit ill-fated negotiations that otherwise might entice unsuspecting solos. An unan-
swered question, however, is whether teams are better able to reach integrative agreements in negoti-
ations that appear to be intractable, particularly those that require a great deal of trust and
information sharing to uncover hidden sources of compatibility. Teams are more likely to reach
impasse in dispute negotiations as compared to solos (Howard et al., 2007). In addition, there is
considerably more distrust in intergroup interactions than in interpersonal interactions, and this
distrust leads teams to get worse outcomes than individuals (i.e., earn less money) in mixed-motive
situations, such as the prisoner’s dilemma game (Insko et al., 2013; Wildschut & Insko, 2007). Thus,
there is reason to believe that the relatively greater distrust among team negotiators as compared to
solo negotiators could in some circumstances counteract advantages based on greater judgment and
decision-making capabilities.
Finally, although most research on teams in negotiations has sought to investigate the informa-
tion processing benefits that teams provide over solos, the second study allowed us to also examine
whether teams would be more or less effective at hiding information from the other party.
Recently, knowledge hiding has become a topic of increasing importance in the organizational liter-
ature (Connelly, Zweig, Webster, & Trougakos, 2012), yet little research to our knowledge has
investigated this topic with teams. Interestingly, in Study 2, there was a trend for buyer teams to
impasse more than buyer solos, although this difference failed to reach conventional levels of sig-
nificance. Such a trend may simply be a statistical anomaly; alternatively, perhaps the study had
insufficient power to detect the effect as an effect. Regardless, this could be an avenue for future
research. Perhaps negotiating teams are less effective than solos at hiding information. After all,
whereas the information processing benefits of teams requires teammates to process information,
information hiding requires teammates to know what information to hide and how to hide it; it
requires greater coordination. Thus, information hiding may be less effective with teams than with
solos.
Conclusion
Negotiation research has benefitted greatly by adopting the economic yardstick of Pareto optimality as
its prime dependent measure. Stated simply, most scholars are preoccupied with discovering the cogni-
tive and social conditions that best position negotiators to reach optimal agreements. The wisdom of
avoiding bad agreements has not been on the scholarly radar screen. Thus, the present research begins
upstream of where negotiation research often starts. The wisdom of reaching a deal must logically pre-
cede the analysis of which mutual agreements might be more optimal than others. In this sense, this arti-
cle is an attempt to broaden the geography of negotiation research and focus on upstream
considerations.
Volume 7, Number 4, Pages 232–242 239
Cohen et al. Agreement Trap
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Taya R. Cohen is Assistant Professor of Organizational Behavior and Theory at the Tepper School of
Business at Carnegie Mellon University, where she teaches a course on Negotiations for Masters of Busi-
ness Administration (MBA) students and conducts research investigating how personality and situational
factors influence unethical and competitive behavior. The two main themes of her research are: (1)
understanding the role of moral character traits in inhibiting selfish and harmful behaviors, and (2)
understanding why interactions between groups are characterized by more competition, greed, and fear
compared to interactions between individuals. She has published more than 20 peer-reviewed articles on
these topics in leading psychology and management journals. She currently serves on the editorial boards
of Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, and Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. She
earned a B.A. in Psychology from the Pennsylvania State University, and an M.A. and Ph.D. in Social
Psychology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Geoffrey J. Leonardelli (Ph.D., Social Psychology, The Ohio State University) is Associate Professor of
Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management at the University of Toronto’s Rotman
School of Management (with a cross-appointment to the Department of Psychology). His research tar-
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Cohen et al. Agreement Trap
gets how people can harness knowledge about themselves to enhance their leadership, groups, and nego-
tiator effectiveness, which include the study of negotiator focus, making offers, knowledge transfer, and
intergroup relations. His work has been published in the Journal of World Business,Journal of Applied
Psychology, Psychological Science, and Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, and he serves on the
editorial board of the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.
Leigh Thompson is the J. Jay Gerber Distinguished Professor of Dispute Resolution and Organizations
at the Kellogg School of Management. She is the director of the Kellogg Team and Groups Research Cen-
ter and directs the Leading High Impact Teams, Constructive Collaboration, and Negotiation Strategies
executive programmes. An active scholar and researcher, she has published over 110 research articles and
chapters and has authored 10 books, including Creative conspiracy (HBS press), The truth about negotia-
tion (Financial Times Press), The mind and heart of the negotiator (6th edition, Pearson Education, Inc.),
Making the team (5th edition, Pearson Education, Inc.), Creativity in organizations,Shared knowledge in
organizations, Negotiation: Theory and research,The social psychology of organizational behavior: Essential
reading, Organizational behavior today, and Conflict in organizational teams.
Volume 7, Number 4, Pages 232–242242
Agreement Trap Cohen et al.
... Literature on small group synergy emphasized the superiority of groups as information processing systems compared to individuals (Hinsz 2015;Hinsz et al. 1997), highlighting the cognitive gains stemming from group interaction or the idea that "two heads are better than one" (Carey and Laughlin 2012;Cohen et al. 2014;Laughlin et al. 2006). Some of the arguments for groups seen as having superior outcomes than individuals involve being better at perceiving the true interests of others (Thompson et al. 1996), being more effective at obtaining and integrating information (Cohen et al. 2014), being more effective at detecting and correcting errors (Hinsz 2015), and having higher levels of information processing abilities (Cohen et al. 2014). ...
... Literature on small group synergy emphasized the superiority of groups as information processing systems compared to individuals (Hinsz 2015;Hinsz et al. 1997), highlighting the cognitive gains stemming from group interaction or the idea that "two heads are better than one" (Carey and Laughlin 2012;Cohen et al. 2014;Laughlin et al. 2006). Some of the arguments for groups seen as having superior outcomes than individuals involve being better at perceiving the true interests of others (Thompson et al. 1996), being more effective at obtaining and integrating information (Cohen et al. 2014), being more effective at detecting and correcting errors (Hinsz 2015), and having higher levels of information processing abilities (Cohen et al. 2014). ...
... Literature on small group synergy emphasized the superiority of groups as information processing systems compared to individuals (Hinsz 2015;Hinsz et al. 1997), highlighting the cognitive gains stemming from group interaction or the idea that "two heads are better than one" (Carey and Laughlin 2012;Cohen et al. 2014;Laughlin et al. 2006). Some of the arguments for groups seen as having superior outcomes than individuals involve being better at perceiving the true interests of others (Thompson et al. 1996), being more effective at obtaining and integrating information (Cohen et al. 2014), being more effective at detecting and correcting errors (Hinsz 2015), and having higher levels of information processing abilities (Cohen et al. 2014). ...
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... We study the joint gain achieved between teams because these outcomes reflect greater interteam collaboration in team negotiations and play an important role in reducing the recurrence of intergroup conflict whilst stimulating economic prosperity (Pruitt & Lewis, 1975;Raiffa, 1982). Consistent with the team negotiations literatureand prior empirical research on the topic (e.g., Brodt & Tuchinsky, 2000;Cohen et al., 2014;Peterson & Thompson, 1997;Swaab et al., 2021;Thompson et al., 1996) -we focus our examination upon smaller negotiation teams (i.e., at least two people). Across four studies, each involving interactive team-on-team negotiations, we provide support for the hypothesized effects of formal intrateam hierarchies on joint gain and test a useful intervention to mitigate the harmful effects of that hierarchically structured teams can have at the negotiation table. ...
... Teams are widely assumed to be better at unlocking integrative solutions than individuals (Hüffmeier et al., 2019;Morgan & Tindale, 2002;Thompson et al., 2006) because they hold greater information processing capacity and suffer from fewer reasoning errors (Cohen et al., 2014). However, interactions between teams also introduce another set of challenges . ...
... Third, although we found that hierarchical teams undermined high-quality outcomes in negotiations with integrative potential, there may be other settings where the presence of team hierarchies may be more beneficial. For instance, while the team size in our studies is consistent with the broader literature on negotiation teams which tends to focus on small team sizes (e.g., Brodt & Tuchinsky, 2000;Cohen et al., 2014;Peterson & Thompson, 1997;Swaab et al., 2021;Thompson et al., 1996), having an egalitarian structure may not be feasible in larger negotiation teams. In fact, not having a designated leader in large teams may present significant coordination problems. ...
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Although teams of negotiators are widely assumed to be better at unlocking integrative solutions than individual negotiators, the interteam negotiation context is characterized by unique challenges which can make effective collaboration between teams difficult. We extend our theoretical understanding of interteam negotiations by offering novel insights about when and why teams realize their potential in integrative negotiations. Specifically, we propose a theoretical model that explains how hierarchical team structures reduce information elaboration within teams, which reinforces “fixed-pie” assumptions that prompt the reliance on value claiming behaviors between teams and lower high-quality outcomes such as the joint gain achieved. Across four studies, each involving interactive team-on-team negotiations, we provide support for the hypothesized effects of formal intrateam hierarchies on joint gain, and test a useful intervention to mitigate the harmful effects of hierarchically structured teams at the negotiation table. Contributions to the literatures on team negotiations, interteam collaboration, and hierarchical differences within teams are discussed.
... We study the joint gain achieved between teams because these outcomes reflect greater interteam collaboration in team negotiations and play an important role in reducing the recurrence of intergroup conflict whilst stimulating economic prosperity (Pruitt & Lewis, 1975;Raiffa, 1982). Consistent with the team negotiations literatureand prior empirical research on the topic (e.g., Brodt & Tuchinsky, 2000;Cohen et al., 2014;Peterson & Thompson, 1997;Swaab et al., 2021;Thompson et al., 1996) -we focus our examination upon smaller negotiation teams (i.e., at least two people). Across four studies, each involving interactive team-on-team negotiations, we provide support for the hypothesized effects of formal intrateam hierarchies on joint gain and test a useful intervention to mitigate the harmful effects of that hierarchically structured teams can have at the negotiation table. ...
... Teams are widely assumed to be better at unlocking integrative solutions than individuals (Hüffmeier et al., 2019;Morgan & Tindale, 2002;Thompson et al., 2006) because they hold greater information processing capacity and suffer from fewer reasoning errors (Cohen et al., 2014). However, interactions between teams also introduce another set of challenges . ...
... Third, although we found that hierarchical teams undermined high-quality outcomes in negotiations with integrative potential, there may be other settings where the presence of team hierarchies may be more beneficial. For instance, while the team size in our studies is consistent with the broader literature on negotiation teams which tends to focus on small team sizes (e.g., Brodt & Tuchinsky, 2000;Cohen et al., 2014;Peterson & Thompson, 1997;Swaab et al., 2021;Thompson et al., 1996), having an egalitarian structure may not be feasible in larger negotiation teams. In fact, not having a designated leader in large teams may present significant coordination problems. ...
... For example, teams of negotiators tend to outperform solos by discovering more compatible issues, engaging in more mutually beneficial trade-offs, and increasing joint profit-benefits that appear to flow from increased information exchange (Thompson et al. 1996, Morgan & Tindale 2002; for a broad discussion, see Brodt & Thompson 2001). Recent research has continued to elucidate some of the benefits of groups, such as the ability to reach an impasse when an impasse is optimal (Cohen et al. 2014), weaker fixed pie perceptions, and a tendency to engage in more integrative bargaining (Kern et al. 2020). In short, teams seem to have cognitive and motivational advantages over individuals, which can lead to better deals when www.annualreviews.org ...
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In this review, we identify emerging trends in negotiation scholarship that embrace complexity, finding moderators of effects that were initially described as monolithic, examining the nuances of social interaction, and studying negotiation as it occurs in the real world. We also identify areas in which research is lacking and call for scholarship that offers practical advice. All told, the existing research highlights negotiation as an exciting context for examining human behavior, characterized by features such as strong emotions, an intriguing blend of cooperation and competition, the presence of fundamental issues such as power and group identity, and outcomes that deeply affect the trajectory of people's personal and professional lives. Expected final online publication date for the Annual Review of Psychology, Volume 74 is January 2023. Please see http://www.annualreviews.org/page/journal/pubdates for revised estimates.
... Conversely, negotiators may sometimes reach an agreement despite having better alternatives and although the agreement may hurt their interests (Leonardelli & Thompson, 2004), that is, they exhibit what is known as "agreement bias": They inherently value agreement (Tuncel, Mislin, Kesebir, & Pinkley, 2016) or fail to properly process all relevant information (Cohen, Leonardelli, & Thompson, 2014). This may partially (but not completely) explain low impasse rates observed in negotiation tasks. ...
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Although impasses are frequently experienced by negotiators, are featured in newspaper articles, and are reflected in online searches and can be costly, negotiation scholarship does not appear to consider them seriously as phenomena worth explaining. A review of negotiation tasks to study impasses reveals that they bias negotiators toward agreement. We systematically organize past findings on impasses and integrate them in the impasse type, cause, and resolution model (ITCR model). Our fundamental assumption is that a positive bargaining zone does not imply symmetric preferences for an agreement. One or both negotiators may prefer an impasse over an agreement despite a positive bargaining zone. We argue that it is beneficial for management research to distinguish between three impasse types: If both negotiators perceive benefit from an impasse, they are wanted; if one negotiator perceives benefits from an impasse, they are forced; and if both do not perceive benefits from the impasse, they are unwanted. We review structural (e.g., bargaining zone, communication channels), interpersonal (e.g., tough tactics, emotions), and intrapersonal (e.g., biases, available information, and framing) factors as the likely antecedents of the three impasse types. We also examine evidence that suggests that wanted impasses can be resolved by changing the negotiation structure for both parties, forced impasses can be resolved through persuasion, and unwanted impasses can be overcome by debiasing both parties. Finally, we review current methodological guidance and provide updated recommendations on how scholars should deal with impasses in both study designs and data analyses.
... While studying the use of true statements to misled people (paltering), Rogers et al. (2017) discovered the use of paltering in negotiations increases the probability of an impasse. Cohen, Leonardelli, and Thompson (2014) discovered that two-and three-person negotiation teams were more likely to reach an impasse than single negotiators. Wiltermuth and Neale (2011) found that negotiators that had information irrelevant for the negotiation about their negotiation counterpart were more likely to reach an impasse. ...
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This study contrasts the rate of impasse in genders in face-to-face negotiations for newly trained women and men. The empirical study analyzed negotiators’ negotiation impasse rates based on gender using a two-tailed t-test. The bargainers were involved in a series of ten high-stakes, zero-sum game negotiations. A total of 4,855 separate negotiations were examined. Overall, there were no statistically significant differences in the impasse rates of men and women The female rate of impasse was lower than the male rate of impasse, but without any significant differences, the results indicate that there are no gender differences in the abilities of negotiators to arrive at a deal.
... Some scholarly research has examined the "agreement bias," when negotiators accept a deal that is worse than their alternative, sometimes because they feel an obligation to their current bargaining counterpart. One recent article (Cohen, Leonardelli, & Thompson, 2014) found that teaming up with others mitigated the agreement bias-suggesting that there may be value in consulting others or seeking advice before saying yes to a substantial request. ...
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Whether in everyday disagreements, bargaining episodes, or high-stakes disputes, people typically see a spectrum of possible responses to dealing with differences with others, ranging from avoidance and accommodation to competition and aggression. We believe people judge their own and others' behaviors along this dimension, which we call interpersonal assertiveness, reflecting the degree to which someone stands up and speaks out for their own positions when they are faced with someone else who does not want the same outcomes. In this article, we review long-standing and recent scholarship to characterize the curvilinear consequences of assertiveness (both “too little” and “too much” can be problematic). We consider the sources of accommodating and assertive behavior, such as motivations, expectancies, and failures of self-regulation. We also examine ways in which people can assert themselves effectively, ranging from making precise offers in negotiations to employing rationales as part of their proposals. We conclude by noting promising directions for future research.
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How to reach a creative agreement in negotiations when the Zone of Possible Agreement (ZOPA) does not apparently exist? To answer this question, we drew on the cognitive flexibility theory and proposed a model predicting that negotiators’ mental fatigue would engender fewer creative agreements, and their integrative complexity acted as an underlying mechanism. Across four studies, we measured (Study 1) and manipulated (Studies 2–4) mental fatigue to test our hypotheses. We found that negotiation dyads with higher mental fatigue were less likely to display integrative complexity and hence less likely to reach creative agreements in negotiations without an apparent ZOPA. We also demonstrated that in this kind of negotiation, simply identifying additional issues or proposing packaging offers were not enough; negotiators need to do both to construct creative agreements. This research contributes to the literature of negotiation, creative problem‐solving, and the cognitive flexibility theory.
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Negotiation scholars have assumed that participants enter negotiations with the intent to reach an agreement. In addition, negotiation scholars have assumed that negotiators cannot be significantly harmed by the negotiation process itself. We challenge both of these assumptions and identify important implications. We introduce the term insincere negotiations to characterize negotiations that involve one or more negotiators who feign interest in seeking an agreement and enter negotiations to pursue non-agreement motives, such as stalling for time, gaining information, or blocking a competitor from reaching an agreement. We explore how this broader conceptualization of negotiations changes both negotiator behavior and negotiated outcomes and makes the decisions to enter and to persist in a negotiation risky and strategic.
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Research Summary We examine how competitive tensions and cooperative motivations together shape firms’ interactions and group‐level outcomes during technology coordination activities in multi‐firm settings. Analyzing the communication and voting behavior of 115 firms across three subcommittees of a computing industry technology standards‐setting organization over 14 years, we find that existing product‐market positions influence how firms with highly overlapped technological resources differ in their interactions: when their product‐markets are more competitive, they exhibit greater support for the emerging standard as evidenced by positivity and certainty of interaction tone; but when they possess a broader array of complementary products, support is tempered. At the subcommittee level, after accounting for aggregate competitive tensions in prior interactions, heterogeneity in both firms’ relational influence as well their prior multiparty experience improve consensus. Managerial Summary In innovation ecosystems, competing firms are often obligated to collaborate with each other in large multi‐firm forums, to develop the technical standards that enable interoperability between their products. We show how the networks of technical and commercial relationships between firms shape such standards activities in two steps. First, firms who share many common technology interests with others communicate their support for new standards more vigorously when they participate in more competitive product‐markets, but less vigorously when they possess more complementary products. Second, communities find broader support for standards when there is greater imbalance across both firms’ prior collaborative experiences as well as their pattern of relationships. We demonstrate these results in a study of 115 firms participating in computer peripherals standards development over 14 years.
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Optimal distinctiveness theory [Brewer, M. B. (1991). The social self: on being the same and different at the same time. Personality & Social Psychology Bulletin, 17(5), 475–482] proposes that individuals have two fundamental and competing human needs—the need for inclusion and the need for differentiation—that can be met by membership in moderately inclusive (optimally distinct) groups. In this chapter, the optimal distinctiveness model and its origins are summarized, and theoretical extensions and empirical tests of the model are discussed. In particular, the empirical review summarizes the model's consequences for social identification, social cognition, and intergroup relations. The evidence strongly supports the notion that the needs for inclusion and differentiation influence self-categorization resulting in a curvilinear relation between group inclusiveness and group identification. The existing evidence also indicates that the two needs influence perceptions and judgments of the self and others and the nature of intragroup and intergroup relations. The chapter concludes by discussing the interplay of the needs for inclusion and differentiation across levels of the self and how the needs for inclusion and differentiation influence which level of self (individual or collective) is motivationally primary.
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Chapter
Purpose – Although extensive research shows that power affects negotiator performance, few efforts have been made to investigate how status conflict among negotiators affects negotiation. This chapter addresses this limitation and explores the question that when groups experience status conflict while simultaneously conducting negotiations, how this status conflict affects negotiator behavior and negotiation outcome. Approach – We define three basic forms of status contest and develop 12 propositions about the impact of status conflict on between-group negotiator behavior and negotiation outcome. Findings – We propose that when negotiating with an outgroup, negotiators who experience within-group status conflict will use the outgroup to increase their status within group by demonstrating their value to their own group. In the situation of wholly within-group status conflict and within-group negotiation, individual negotiators will use group concern to gain status. This group concern leads to more value-creating behaviors, but lessens the likelihood of reaching an agreement. When groups experience intergroup status conflict alongside intergroup negotiation, the likelihood of agreement, and the likelihood of integrative agreement, decreases and this is due to an increase in contentiousness. Value – This chapter suggests that status conflict is an important, albeit neglected, aspect of negotiation and it can affect the outcome of the negotiation. Greater research attention toward status conflict in negotiation should help to improve negotiation effectiveness and the quality of agreements.
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The consistent finding that interactions involving groups are more competitive than interactions between individuals is known as the discontinuity effect. We investigated the effects of group size in order to determine whether the effect is a true discontinuity or a continuous function of group size. We also asked whether dyads behave like larger groups. Four hundred and eighty seven students volunteered for the experiment. Individuals played 10 trials of two-choice prisoner's dilemmas against other individuals or against groups of sizes two through eight. Major findings included (a) individual–individual interactions were more cooperative than individual–group interactions, but there were no differences among group sizes; (b) dyads were indistinguishable from larger groups; and (c) data on expectations revealed that, before interacting, groups were not only distrusted by individuals but also distrusted the individuals. The discontinuity between individuals and groups–including dyads–appears to be a true discontinuity.
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Nearly all research on the accuracy of individual versus group decision making has used ad hoc groups, artificial problems, and trivial or nonexistent reward contingencies. These studies have generally concluded that the knowledge base of the most competent group member appears to be the practical upper limit of group performance and that process gains will rarely be achieved. We studied individual versus group decision making by using data from 222 project teams, ranging in size from 3 to 8 members. These teams were engaged in solving contextually relevant and consequential problems and, in direct contrast with previous research, the groups outperformed their most proficient group member 97% of the time. Furthermore, 40% of the process gains could not be explained by either average or most knowledgeable group member scores. Implications for management practice are also discussed.
Article
In this study, the performance of individual and team negotiators is compared. From an intergroup relations perspective, teams may be impeded by their competitive orientation and low levels of cooperation and trust. However, from a cognitive perspective, advantages should accrue to teams because more people are present to generate additional ideas, bring a greater number of perspectives to the problem, and perform strategically important roles during the negotiation. The relative effects of these opposing forces were tested by comparing the perceptions and outcomes of parties in intergroup, interindividual, and mixed (team vs. individual) negotiations in a laboratory experiment. Results indicate that the presence of teams increased competitiveness and decreased cooperativeness and trust between negotiating parties. In mixed negotiations, teams outperformed individual opponents and were perceived as having more power and more ideas for a solution. Teams also affected integrative outcomes when negotiators' level of training was considered, such that the presence of teams negatively influenced performance for novices but positively influenced integrative outcomes for trained negotiators. The implications of these results for theories of intergroup relations and negotiations are discussed.