At a Loss for Words: Dominating the Conversation and the Outcome in Negotiation as a Function of Intricate Arguments and Communication Media

When the other side knows more than you do, choose a slower means of negotiation.


The Idea

When the other side knows more than you do, choose a slower means of negotiation.

The Research

Jeffrey Loewenstein, Michael Morris, Agnish Chakravarti, Leigh Thompson and Shirli Kopelman studied how different means of negotiation affect the kind of arguments that work best. Face-to-face talk and phone calls make for rapid back-and-forth between parties, while the exchange of documents slows things down. In recent years, two new electronic media reflect quite well this same distinction: instant messaging (IM) is fast, and e-mail is slow. That is, in IM you must reply right away, while e-mail allows you to pause between exchanges.

This research used these two media in an experiment on which one might favor a common negotiating technique: complex argument. Typically, the more expert side has more complex arguments at hand. The study asked 224 graduate business students to negotiate the sale of a car. That made for 112 one-on-one negotiations. Half used IM and half used e-mail. The researchers trained half of the sellers with complex, technical arguments of the sort that car dealers use and gave the other half simple arguments. They awarded points to buyers and sellers for gaining advantage on eight different elements of the negotiation, such as price and warranty details.

The results revealed that neither kind of argument gave an advantage in e-mail but that the complex arguments gave a clear advantage in IM. The study show that it is easier to overwhelm the other side with complexity when they have little time to respond; but when things slow down, the advantage disappears.

Practical Applications

Negotiators of all kinds

This research offers key insights for negotiations of all kinds. If you have complex arguments on your side, look for a fast-paced means of negotiation, most typically face-to-face, telephone or videoconference. If the other side has an advantage of expertise, look for a slower means of negotiation that gives you time to think, such as e-mail or the traditional exchange of documents. If you find yourself at a disadvantage midway, look to switch to a slower means.

Read the Research

Jeffrey Lowenstein, Michael Morris, Agnish Chakravarti, Leigh Thompson, Shirli Kopelman

"At a Loss for Words: Dominating the Conversation and the Outcome in Negotiation as a Function of Intricate Arguments and Communication Media"

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