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Intuition Or Counter-Intuition?

by Phyllis Pollack
November 2009

From the Blog of Phyllis G. Pollack.

Phyllis  Pollack

       On Saturday, November 7, 2009, Dr. Daniel Druckman, Professor of Public and International Affairs at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia delivered the 5th Annual L. Randolph Lowry Lecture at Southern California Mediation Association’s 21st Annual Conference.

      His lecture was taken from his article Intuition or Counter-Intuition? The Science behind the Art of Negotiation published in the October 2009 issue of the Negotiation Journal (at pp. 431-448). In the limited amount of available time, Dr. Druckman  highlighted the metaphors for negotiation and some counter-intuitive findings regarding negotiation.

      First, negotiation can take many forms and is used in varied contexts, be it from our own daily lives, domestically, regionally, internationally, or even globally.

      To best describe the different forms of negotiation, Dr. Druckman uses metaphors. For example, some negotiators see negotiation  as a game, while others view it as a discourse.  Still, others,  see negotiation as a tool for managing organizations. (p. 433.)

      Some view negotiation as a puzzle to be solved with the familiar example being the ‘prisoner’s dilemma”. Others view negotiation as a bargaining contest such as occurs in haggling in the market place (p. 433).
 In addition, negotiation can be viewed as diplomacy politics in which “negotiation is viewed as a microcosm of the larger game of international politics” (p. 434).

      In short, there is not just one facet to negotiation: it has many faces, and how it is used depends heavily on the context in which it is used: the market place, within organizations, between states, between countries, or globally.

      Of equal interest are Dr. Druckman’s counter-intuitive findings. Each challenges “. . . the  popular wisdom and illuminate[s] the complexity of negotiating behavior”.(p. 437).

      The first involves the notion, to negotiate or not to negotiate: “A continuous negotiation process can increase the chances of getting a settlement.  It can also serve to perpetuate impasse” (p.437). Thus, it is important to know when to negotiate and when to stop. According to research, negotiations should continue as long as” momentum is building towards an agreement” but should stop” if new incompatibilities are discovered” which will serve only to heighten the conflict. (p. 437.)

       At the same time, “impasse can turn a frozen negotiation around.” It is often a “wake-up call” to negotiators to perhaps take a “time out” to reframe issues or develop new procedures that can lead to progress. (p. 437)

       A second counter-intuitive finding is that some times, “developing negotiating alternatives can have negative effects that outweigh the “good” agreement” (p. 438). That is, generating too many alternatives may produce a less than ideal agreement. Thus, determining the best alternatives to a negotiated agreement  or BATNA may actually be detrimental.

       A third counter-intuitive finding is that “exchanging too much information during negotiation can have the unforeseen consequences of revealing new incompatibilities that can escalate” rather than resolve, the dispute (p. 438).

       Similarly,  “too much flexibility in concession making may have negative implications for group loyalty” (p. 438).  According to Dr. Druckman, research has revealed that “quick concessions, even if mutual, often lead to suboptimal agreements.” Dr. Druckman calls this the “Winner’s Curse” (p. 438).

       The final counter-intuitive finding discussed involves emotional expressions:

      “. . . displays  of anger can be helpful when they reveal strongly felt values or interests and are directed at the task rather than at the other person(s). Strong expressions can serve to define or anchor a bargaining range if they are regarded as authentic signals rather than as distracting “noise” (p. 438).


       Similarly, firm stances can be effective, as well:” Standing firm on principles early in a negotiation but showing flexibility on positions later can elicit more concessions. . . ” (p. 438). (Or, similarly,  as my mediation trainers have often said: “be firm in the position but soft on the people.”)

       Dr. Druckman’s  brief discussion of the different metaphors for negotiation and the findings on counter-intuitive negotiation tactics gave me a lot to think about and to incorporate into my mediation practice.

       I hope that they provide food for thought for you as well!

       . . . Just something to think about!


Phyllis Pollack with PGP Mediation uses a facilitative, interest-based approach. Her preferred mediation style is facilitative in the belief that the best and most durable resolutions are those achieved by the parties themselves. The parties generally know the business issues and priorities, personalities and obstacles to a successful resolution as well as their own needs better than any mediator or arbitrator. She does not impose her views or make decisions for the parties. Rather, Phyllis assists the parties in creating options that meet the needs and desires of both sides.  When appropriate, visual aids are used in preparing discussions and illustrating possible solutions. On the other hand, she is not averse to being proactive and offering a generous dose of reality, particularly when the process may have stalled due to unrealistic expectations of attorney or client, a failure to focus on needs rather than demands, or when one or more parties need to be reminded of the potential consequences of their failure to reach an agreement.

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