Agreeable. Extroverted. Smart. Important workplace assets, right? Maybe not.
From Vanderbilt University's Owen Graduate School of Management, we learn it's possible to be too agreeable, too extroverted for our own good. In win-lose bargaining situations _ negotiating for a raise, haggling over a price or bargaining for power _ those traits may help you lose.
Two Vanderbilt professors spent two years studying bargaining-table behavior. One of them, management Professor Bruce Barry, explained one of the obvious problems: "An agreeable person has a tendency to value cooperation over protecting one's own interest."
Barry and fellow researcher Raymond Friedman defined "agreeable" as being courteous, flexible, trusting, cooperative and tolerant. Good stuff, right? Not when asking for a raise.
For example: Agreeable Joe asks for 6 percent. Boss counters with 3 percent; gives passionate speech about budget constraints and co-workers' needs. Joe understands; accepts 3 percent.
Barry and Friedman also studied the role of intelligence in win-lose bargaining. Finding: It doesn't help to be smart.
For example: IQ and graduate school admissions tests say Joe is smart. He comes to his raise negotiations with solid research about the economy and comparative salaries. He brings proof of his high-performing contributions.
"Intelligence doesn't matter at all," Barry said. "Neither did how conscientiously you prepared in advance for the meeting. We found that personality tendencies can undermine the strategic planning."
In win-lose negotiating, agreeable people were victims of "a bad thing called anchoring," Barry said. Anchoring occurs when a person is hooked by the opposition's initially stated position, even if extreme.
"Anchoring sucks agreeable people into the other person's way of thinking, into believing that's where the deal is," Barry said. "Agreeables don't necessarily start out as wimps, but they do get co-opted once the social interaction gets under way."
In real life, bargaining situations usually are more complex than a simple win-lose. Many have win-win outcomes. Barry and Friedman studied win-win successes, too, and found gray matter can matter in those cases.
"Most negotiating allows trade-offs, and when it does, cognitive ability has an impact," Barry said. "The presumption is that smarter people are better at perceiving both parties' interests, solving problems and finding creative ways to address both. Conscientious preparation also helps."
Results of the professors' study were published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Some of their pointers for successful bargaining:
Begin with the expectation of doing well; make an extreme, but not insulting, first offer; don't let your counteroffer be swayed by an extreme first offer; and try to bargain with the smartest person available on the other side.
If you're naturally agreeable, focus on what you want _ not on protecting your relationship with the other party. If you're naturally extroverted, be careful not to reveal too much information that can be used against you.