Do Personality and Individual Differences Matter in Negotiations?

Do Personality and Individual Differences Matter in Negotiations

Do you believe it is possible to improve intelligence or negotiating skills? If you do or you don’t both matter relative to your mindset. This helps to determine whether you view these items as fixed or capable of growth. This article takes a look at this question, and then explores the impact of self-interest and selfishness, as well as creativity and sensitivity in negotiations.

For those that believe it is not possible to improve intelligence or negotiation skills, there is greater likelihood to perceive the size of the negotiating pie as fixed. With those that believe that growth in these areas is possible there is a greater likelihood to believe it may be possible to increase the size of the negotiating pie as interests are explored. Academic studies in this area confirm these conclusions. As with many things, often our perceptions shape our realities. It has also been found that those that believe that others can improve their negotiation skills may outperform their counterparts. As such perceptions can and do matter.

For those that look out for number one (self-interest and selfish interests only), they tend to do better. Why might that be? Those that promote self-interest first may also be less receptive to compromise and may be more prone to bullying. For those not prepared for such tactics this can be intimidating. For those entering the negotiation with experience and prepared for such an approach, they may very well be able to counteract those that don’t play fair and undermine their position.

Some participants may be very sensitive or thin skinned, meaning a personal attack can undermine their ability to negotiate as effectively. I found early in my career in negotiations personally that if the other side resorted to personal attacks that often meant that they knew they did not have as good of a case. In many instances they knew it and this was a last ditch effort to intimidate our team. Having experienced this over the years I became far more hardened to personal attacks. If you have a member of your team that is very sensitive, take this into account. Consider a time out. It is important to label and discuss negative feelings in a caucus and to be prepared to address these concerns when re-entering the negotiations.

It has been found that more intelligent negotiators tend to be more creative and thus are better at bringing forward ideas from outside the proverbial “box.” However an academic study found this did not necessarily help with the overall conclusions of the negotiation. What does this mean? This means that creative intelligent negotiators may offer additional ideas that may be very helpful, but in the end there is no evidence that the overall negotiated settlement was any better.

These finding suggest having a concise group on the negotiating team is critical, but having members of the team with different skill sets and experiences may have a profound influence on the final outcome. What are some of the key elements that may help your negotiation team?

Bring on board those with a perspective that it may be possible to expand the pie by understanding interests.

Have team members that want to explore your own and the other party’s self-interests.

Don’t be intimidated by those not initially interested in your interests. Be prepared to educate the other party why there may be ways to consider interests they had not considered (future dealings, varying terms, relationships shared, etc.).

Don’t be intimidated by bullies. Be prepared to call them out, go over their head, pull an end run to appropriate parties, or walk away and go forward with your Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement (BATNA).

Be prepared for personal attacks and if a member or members of your team are sensitive to personal attacks be prepared to call a time out and a caucus to discuss this as a team and to return with a united perspective. For example when reconvening indicate that the type of behavior is not acceptable if the negotiations are to continue. On the other hand you may find that the sensitive members of the team after coaching may be able to absorb the personal attacks by reflecting and realizing that these are a sign of weakness by the other party.

Bring on board creative intelligent types, but also consider that these individuals may not offer significant advantages to your team in the final negotiations. Their perspective may be very helpful during the process, but there is no evidence that their perspective is any better or worse in the end.

By having a team that can reflect the best of the ideas presented here, your team if set up with a greater likelihood of success. Completing a negotiation alone makes it harder to have as successful a negotiation as no one person may have all of the skills suggested here. By considering personality and individual differences as presented here for your team, it may be possible to build a stronger negotiation team to the negotiation.

If you enjoyed this commentary you may very well enjoy this article from the Program on Negotiation from the Harvard Law School.

Michael Gregory, NSA, ASA, CVA, MBA is an international speaker, that helps organization resolve conflict and negotiate winning solutions. Mike is dedicated to making individuals, organizations, thought-leading entrepreneurs and executives more successful. Michael’s books, including The Servant Manager, How to Work with the IRS, Second Edition and his most recent book, now also available as an eBook, Peaceful Resolutions are available at this link.  On point resources are available online at and check out the blog. Contact Mike directly at or call (651) 633-5311. 

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]