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When we think about the factors that might give you an advantage in a negotiation, a few obvious things spring to mind, such as nerves of steel, a poker face and an ability to give away something small to get something big.
But by concentrating on these psychological factors, we might be missing the real key to winning a negotiation: selecting the place where a negotiation takes place.
Markus Baer, assistant professor of organisational behaviour at Washington University in St Louis, and Graham Brown, assistant professor on the faculty of management at the University of British Columbia, write in a blog on the Harvard Business Review website that the physical location of a negotiation is hugely important.
Their research (which can be downloaded here) showed that residents of an office space — even a space they had been in for only 20 minutes — were able to claim as much as 160% more value in a distributive negotiation (that is, where one party wins and the other loses) than the person visiting the office.
“And it is not only that residents do better when negotiating on their turf,” Baer and Brown write. “Our study also revealed that entering someone else's office space causes us to do worse.”
The pair argue that the huge advantage of negotiating on your home ground relates to confidence – being in your own space almost automatically makes you more confident.
“As human beings we are fundamentally territorial. Just watch people as they sit down in a restaurant. You may see someone putting their coat over their chair or rearranging their plate and silverware.
“All of these behaviours allow us to make ourselves comfortable where we are. They allow us to feel ‘at home’. At the same time, they signal to others that this is our space and that it should not be infringed upon.”
So if your employee tries to drag you to a meeting room or their office for an important chat, be wary.
On the other hand, be very careful about accepting an offer from your chairman to pop down to their beach house for a strategy talk – you may well find yourself agreeing to something you never would have back in your office.
If you are a CEO or managing director, who does your performance review?
Perhaps it is your chairman, who sits down on an annual basis to chat through the year just gone and the year ahead.
Perhaps you perform an annual 360-degree review process, where members of staff fill out a survey, sometimes anonymously.
Both strategies are valuable, but the fact they are annual creates a problem, according to a McKinsey Quarterly article by Robert Kaplan, who says “many executives find that as they become more senior, they receive less coaching and become more confused about their performance and developmental needs… when these executives ultimately do receive feedback in their year-end reviews (often as part of a 360-degree-feedback program), they are surprised to be confronted with specific criticisms of their leadership style, communication approach and interpersonal skills.”
Kaplan’s solution is to set up a network of “junior coaches” – that is, subordinates – who can offer constructive criticism and advice.
The subordinates don’t know they are actually acting as coaches, but if the senior executive asks the right questions, the subordinates’ answers can be invaluable.
Kaplen’s suggested key questions is this: “What advice would you offer to help me improve my effectiveness? Please give me one or two specific and actionable suggestions. I would appreciate your advice.”
He says the process of getting it answered might be awkward, but the feedback makes it worth it.
Everyone’s met them. You might be waiting in line, trying to deal with a big government department or company or even trying to buy something when you meet that officious but lowly-ranked soul who likes to show you how much power they have by being a stickler for the rules.
“I’m afraid I can’t allow that,” says the security guard/call centre operator/store attendant with a smirk.
Financial Times management columnist Lucy Kellaway has felt the sting of these types and decided to investigate.
She says research to be published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology shows “people who have a little power but don’t have status can behave in nasty ways and get a kick out of demeaning others” while those with more status are more restrained.
The study involved an experiment in which students were told to issue orders to others.
“Those who were assigned low-status roles tended to delight in getting people to do humiliating things – like making them bark like a dog three times – while those in higher status jobs treated them with more respect.”
Kellaway says the researchers suggested the best way “of discouraging tyranny lower down the pecking order is to make sure that the jobs are not dead-ends and that advancement is possible”.
It’s a good theory, but I’d question whether human behaviour can really be changed so easily.