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<xTITLE>Personality Matters!</xTITLE>

Personality Matters!

by Phyllis Pollack
January 2021

PGP Mediation Blog by Phyllis G. Pollack

Phyllis  Pollack

During my first week of class teaching mediation ethics, I usually give a version of the Kilmann Diagnostic Test because I believe that one’s personality type impacts one’s mediating style. Thus, a blog post dated November 12, 2020 on  the Harvard Pons website caught my attention. Entitled “How Much Does Personality in Negotiation Matter” by staff, it discusses the 5 major types of personalities: Extrovert, Agreeable, Conscientious, Neurotic, and Openness. But, first as a teaser, it asks some true/false questions:

  1. Extroverted negotiators tend to perform better than introverted negotiators.
  2. Agreeable negotiators generally are more successful than disagreeable ones.
  3. Conscientiousness matters more than other personality traits in negotiation.
  4. Anxious, depressed, and worried negotiators underperform at the bargaining table.
  5. A creative personality in negotiation will carry you far. (Id.)

The post defines “extroverts” as referring “… to an individual’s degree of sociability, assertiveness, talkativeness, and optimism.” (Id.) Extroverts “tend to form ideas and opinions by interacting with others” and  thus thrive in group settings and greatly react to others’ emotions. (Id.) Thus, the answer to the first question is “false”.  Because they “…tend to form ideas and opinions by interacting with others.”(Id.), extroverts achieved less than introverts in a zero sum or distributive bargaining game according to a 1998 experiment conducted by Vanderbilt professors Bruce Barry and Raymond Friedman. These extroverts “….tended to be more influenced than introverts were by their opponent’s first offer, a deficit that they only partially compensated for later in the negotiation.” (Id.) However, when the bargaining was a win-win type or integrative, both introverts and extroverts performed equally well. (Id.)

“Agreeable” is defined as including being courteous, flexible, sympathetic, trusting, cooperative and tolerant. (Id.) When comes to being agreeable, again the answer is “false.” In distributive or win-lose negotiations, those with agreeable personalities tend to have lower outcomes but when it comes to a win-win or integrative type of negotiation , being agreeable has no effect on the outcome according to different studies. Why?  In integrative bargaining, the parties are working together to create a mutually agreeable outcome.

With respect to being conscientious (defined as being self-disciplined, organized, careful, responsible and motivated to achieve(Id.)), the studies are inconsistent. One found that being conscientious or not does not really matter while another study found “…that conscientiousness predicts overall job performance better than any of the other Big 5 traits.” (Id.) Thus, the answer to Question 3 may well be “true”. (id.)

Next is neurotic: or an individual who may be anxious, depressed, worried or insecure. The study by Barry and Friedman found that neurotic individuals performed no worse or no better than those with the other traits. Thus, the answer to question 4 is “false.”   (Id.)

“Openness” refers to one being imaginative, broad-minded and being able to generate “… creative solutions by exploring a range of ideas.” (Id.)  As one might expect, this type of personality performs well in an integrative or value creating bargaining dispute  but not so well in distributive bargaining or “pie-dividing” negotiation. Creating solutions out of thin air is what their personalities are all about. So, the answer to this question 4 would be “true.”(Id.)

The blog post ends on an interesting note quoting a  study that found two individuals who are each “disagreeable” tend to get along the best. (Id.) Why? Perhaps due to mirroring or that their respective behaviors resemble the other’s. Thus, they appreciate their similarities more than their disagreeableness. (Id.)

So, depending on your personality type, it may well just impact your next negotiation and its outcome.

…. 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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