Negotiation Drama: Strategic Umbrage, Line-Crossing Illusion, and Assertiveness Biases

Daniel R Ames

Daniel R Ames

Ability to optimally match one’s style of assertiveness to specific situations can determine success as a leader and negotiator, according to Columbia University’s Daniel Ames and Abbie Wazlawek.

Abbie Wazlawek

Abbie Wazlawek

Earlier, Ames and Stanford’s Frank Flynn reported that moderate levels of assertiveness are associated with career advancement, and with effective negotiation and influence in conflict situations.
In addition, they found that most observers provided consistent ratings of managerial under-assertiveness and over-assertiveness.

Francis Flynn

Francis Flynn

However, most people do not accurately assess others’ evaluation of their assertiveness in specific situations.
Over-assertive individuals tend to have less-accurate self-perception than less assertive people, and both groups experience “self-awareness blindness.
These inaccurate self-perceptions may develop from polite yet inaccurate feedback from others, which provides faulty information.

A frequently-employed negotiation tactic is overly-emotional verbalizations during negotiations.
More than 80% of participants reported that they had expressed greater objections than they actually felt to influence the negotiation partner, and a different 80% of volunteers said they observed exaggerated objections by their negotiation partners.

Daniel Ames AssertivenessParticipants in Ames and Watzlawek’s studies reported whether they or their counterpart used these excessive emotional displays in negotiation role-plays.
In addition, they rated their own and their negotiation partner’s assertiveness styles.

Self-awareness resulted in most favorable negotiation outcomes: More than 80% of negotiators rated by others and by themselves as “appropriately assertive in the situation” negotiated greatest value to both parties.

Ames Assertiveness U CurveStrategic umbrage also appeared effective:  People who received strategic umbrage displays by their negotiation partners were more likely to rate themselves as over-assertive in their negotiation position.
However, negotiators who applied strategic umbrage rated these self-critical negotiation partners as appropriately assertiveness.
Ames and Watzlawek called this misperception of others’ perceptions the line-crossing illusion.

This mismatch between negotiation partners’ ratings of appropriate assertiveness was linked with poorer negotiation outcomes:  Just 40% of negotiators who were rated as appropriately but felt they were over-assertive (line-crossing illusion) negotiated the best possible deal for themselves and their counterparts.
This suggests that disingenuous emotional displays of strategic umbrage lead negotiation partners to seek the first acceptable deal, rather than pushing for an optimal deal.

Jeffrey Kern

Jeffrey Kern

To improve accuracy of meta-perception – other people’s perception of assertiveness style – Ames and Wazlawek suggested:

  • Participate in 360 degree feedback,
  • Increase skill in listening for content and meaning,
  • Consider whether the positions discussed in negotiation are “reasonable” in the situation in light of comparable alternatives and options,
  • Request feedback on “strategic umbrage” reactions, to better understand additional factors that modify perceptions of “offer reasonableness,
  • Evaluate costs and benefits of specific assertiveness styles:
    Gary Yukl

    Gary Yukl

    Over-assertiveness may provide the benefit of “claiming value” in a negotiation or but the cost may be ruptured interpersonal relationships and a legacy of ill-will, according to Jeffrey M Kern of Texas A&M as well as SUNY’s Cecilia Falbe and Gary Yukl.

  • Consider cultural norms for assertiveness regulation in “low context” cultures like Israel, dramatic displays are frequent and expected in negotiations.
    In contrast, “high context” cultures like Japan require more nuanced assertiveness, with fewer direct disagreements and “strategic umbrage” displays, according to Edward T. Hall, then of the U.S. Department of State.
Edward T Hall

Edward T Hall

Likewise, under-assertiveness may benefit by minimizing interpersonal conflict, but may lead to poorer negotiation outcomes and undermined credibility, in future interactions, according to Ames’ related research.

To augment a less assertiveness style:

  • Set slightly higher goals,
  • Reconsider assumptions that greater assertion leads to conflict, and consider that proactivity may lead to increased respect and improved outcomes
  • Assess the outcome of collaborating with more assertive others.

To modulate a more assertiveness style:

  • Make slight concessions to increase rapport and trust with others,
  • Observe and evaluate the impact of collaborating with less assertive others .

The line-crossing illusion is an example of a self-perception bias in which personal ratings of behavior may not match other people’s perceptions, and others’ behaviors can attenuate individual confidence and assertiveness.

*How do you reduce the risk of developing the line-crossing illusion in response to other people’s displays of “strategic umbrage”?

*How do you match your degree of assertiveness to negotiation situations?

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