quiz: how much does personality in negotiation matter?
How the “Big 5” (OCEAN-Model) influences our negotiation performance.
We tend to have strong beliefs about which personality characteristics help or hinder us in negotiation, but does research on the topic confirm our perception?

Before we explore this topic, please answer “True” or “False” in response to the following questions:

1. A creative personality in negotiation will positively influence the result.
2. A high level of conscientiousness matters more than other personality characteristics in negotiation.
3. Extroverted negotiators tend to perform better than introverted negotiators.

4. Negotiators willing to compromise generally are more successful than disagreeable ones.

5. Anxious, depressed and worried negotiators underperform at the bargaining table.

The “Big 5” - The OCEAN Model
Psychologists generally focus on five main factors that are believed to include most human personality characteristics, when studying personality in negotiation: openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness and neuroticism. Professor Paul T. Costa Jr. of Johns Hopkins and Robert R. McCrae of the National Institute on Aging analyzed and validated these so-called “Big 5” factors in the 1990s. Each factor can be viewed as a range (e.g., from highly introverted to highly extroverted).
In the Handbook of Research on Negotiation (Edward Elgar, 2013), Washington University professor Hillary Anger Elfenbein, a leading researcher on individual differences in negotiation, surveys what we know about how the “Big 5” OCEAN-Model plays out in negotiation:

Openness as a “Big 5” personality trait describes people’s imaginativeness, broad-mindedness, and divergent thinking and generating creative solutions by exploring a range of ideas. People who score high on openness are considered intellectually curious and willing to consider novel ideas, according to Elfenbein.
Not surprisingly, negotiators who score high on openness contributed to greater mutual gain in an integrative negotiation in Barry and Friedman’s study, though they did not perform better in a “pie-dividing” negotiation. These imaginative negotiators may be particularly clever at identifying opportunities for value-creating tradeoffs. Therefore, the answer to Question 1 is “True”: a creative personality will carry you far in negotiation.

As a measure of self-discipline, organization, carefulness, responsibility, and achievement motivation, conscientiousness might seem to be the “Big 5” personality trait most closely linked to high negotiation performance. After all, experts consistently tell us that there is no better way to improve your outcomes than to thoroughly prepare for a negotiation.
A 1991 study by Texas A&M University professor Murray R. Barrick and University of Iowa professor Michael K. Mount found that conscientiousness predicts overall job performance better than any of the other “Big 5” traits. Therefore, the answer to Question 2 is “True.”

Extroversion refers to an individual’s degree of sociability, assertiveness, talkativeness, and optimism. People who score high on extroversion tend to form ideas and opinions by interacting with others. They thrive in group settings and are highly responsive to others’ emotions. Introverts tend to be quieter and listen to and absorb what others are saying. Often, they prefer working and thinking alone. Given these descriptions, we might assume that the best negotiators are extroverts. Optimism, assertiveness, and a lively, friendly personality are all traits that we know from experience can be powerful assets in negotiation, enabling dealmakers to build bridges, draw out others’ interests, and advocate persuasively on their own behalf.
But in one 1998 experiment, Vanderbilt University professors Bruce Barry and Raymond Friedman found that extroverts achieved less than introverts in a distributive-negotiation simulation in which individuals haggled over the single issue of price. Extroverts appeared 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. Introverts and extroverts performed similarly in an integrative, multi-issue negotiation simulation where participants could both collaborate and compete. Based on this study, the answer to Question 3 is “False”: There seems to be no evidence that extroverts outperform introverts in negotiation.

Agreeableness is a personality trait that encompasses courteousness, flexibility, sympathy, trust, cooperation, and tolerance. Many of these traits would appear to be assets in negotiation, particularly flexibility and cooperation. But could agreeableness turn into a liability if concern for others prevents one from advocating assertively for oneself?

Most negotiation studies, including Barry and Friedman’s, have found that agreeableness predicts slightly lower outcomes in distributive negotiations, perhaps due to agreeable people’s social concerns, according to Elfenbein. However, agreeableness has shown no effect on outcomes in integrative negotiations where parties can work together to create value. Eager to protect their relationship with the other party, those high in agreeableness set lower goals and claimed less value for themselves. Thus, the answer to Question 4 also appears to be “False,” based on current knowledge.

The neuroticism describes an individual’s level of anxiety, depression, worry and insecurity. Those who score high on neuroticism performed similarly to others in Barry and Friedman’s study. Thus, the answer to Question 4 appears to be “False.” However, those scoring high on neuroticism view the negotiation experience more negatively than others do after the fact, Elfenbein and her colleagues found in a 2008 study.
Somewhat relatedly, negotiators who have strong concerns about maintaining their social image, or sense of “face,” created less joint value and reached more impasses in negotiations that threatened their sense of self (as when they played a job candidate in a simulated negotiation), Dartmouth College professor Judith B. White and her colleagues found.


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