Do individual differences matter in negotiations?

A large group of people with various cartoon faces

Researchers at the Harvard Law School Program on Negotiations presented an article on Individual Differences in Negotiation – and How They Affect Results.  This article shares with you highlights from that article and offers additional insights to help you with your own negotiations. As presented in a blog on December 19, 2022 entitled, Conflict and dispute resolution in cross cultural negotiations, differences between nations, regions, geography, culture, profession, and class are areas to be sensitive to in negotiations. Research at the University of Washington found that individual personality differences accounted for 49% of variance in negotiators’ performance and satisfaction. This was a major finding. That study looked at personality differences; cognitive, emotional, and creativity differences; and motivational differences. This article introduces these concepts and goes a bit deeper.


Personality Differences


Myers Briggs tests identify 16 different personality preferences. Various personality traits can affect outcomes in a negotiation.  It was found that extroversion for example can be a detriment in a single item negotiation about something like price when the extrovert may simply jump to the bottom line. However, in complex negotiations extroversion may be an asset where parties work together to create value and draw out interests in one another.

Your attitude is key.

 If you are positive and in a good mood this works to develop common interests. If you come in with a bad mood that shows. It makes you harder to work with and collaborate with the other party.

If you re open and imaginative it is more likely that you can raise questions and find ways to benefit both parties, and if you have high self-esteem outcomes tend to be better than those that are not as confident.

These points follow from common sense, but how often do you consider these going into a negotiation?


Open mindedness, emotional intelligence, and creativity


Those with an open mind and high cognitive complexity indicating they can take multiple perspectives into account do better in negotiations.

Emotional intelligence includes the ability to regulate your emotions is also a positive attribute in negotiations.

Staying focused on the problem, helping to de-escalate the situation while controlling their own emotions is highly beneficial. Finally, creativity and the ability to think creatively is linked to better outcomes in negotiations. Cultural intelligence as presented in the link above is particularly helpful in those situations.




The author of Handbook of Research on Negotiations, Elfenbein, found that those concerned about themselves versus others had a major impact on the negotiation.

Negotiators fit into three categories.

These are (1) those concerned with both sides, (2) competitive focused on doing better than the other party, and (3) self-focused and not concerned with the other party. Those that are concerned with both sides clearly outperformed the other two categories, but only when they set ambitious goals. Those that were overly empathetic and set low goals for fear of damaging the relationship did worse.


What can you do?


With guidance and practice it is possible to alter your individual preference to become a better negotiator focusing on the ideas presented here. The author presents that the highly competitive negotiator can work on being less competitive and to focus on building an engaging relationship and

listening actively to the other party with the intention of looking for ways to be concerned with both sides.

Those that are anxious can work to calm their fears focusing on mindfulness with practices such as prayer, reflection, meditation, or yoga. You can reframe anxiety as excitement, focus on opportunities, prepare ahead of time, and build your confidence through practice.


Some additional thoughts


Think and explore your strengths. What do you bring to the negotiating table? What are your weaknesses. Ask others about your blind spots. How do these relate to negotiations? What do you need to work on. How can you apply these and practice these to improve your skill set and your outcomes?

There is no substitute for practice. Use the concepts from the New York Times bestselling book, Atomic Habits, by James Clear. His focus is on taking small steps. These lead to remarkable results. All too often individuals try to take on too much too quickly, become frustrated and give up.  Here we are in the month of January. Every year many join health clubs to improve themselves, lose weight, and jump right in. What happens? They take on too much. They quickly lose hope and perspective. They quit. Health clubs are counting on this every year. What should individuals have done?  Start off with small steps. Move on very slowly to increase elements. The same is true with your negotiation skills.

Under strengths above one social skill identified is negotiation. That is brining others together to reconcile differences. Expand your horizons in this area. Research this on the internet. Read some articles.

Take a look at your strengths and weaknesses.

Why are you doing this? This will increase your own self-awareness, help you to understand others better, it shows you what strengths you have and what to focus on, it shows you areas where you can improve, it will allow you to appreciate who you are.

Turn the weaknesses into strengths. Check out the link in the last paragraph for greater detail and a video on this topic. Reevaluate your areas of strengths. Celebrate small successes. Congratulate yourself and note that you are making progress.

About the author

Mike Gregory is a professional speaker, an author, and a mediator. You may contact Mike directly at and at (651) 633-5311. Mike has written 12 books (and co-authored two others) including his latest book, The Collaboration Effect: Overcoming Your Conflicts, and The Servant Manager, Business Valuations and the IRS, and Peaceful Resolutions that you may find helpful. [Michael Gregory, ASA, CVA, MBA, Qualified Mediator with the Minnesota Supreme Court]