Tag Archives: Assertiveness

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

Daniel R Ames

Daniel R Ames

Optimally matching assertiveness style to specific situations can determine success in negotiations, 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.
They also 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.

More than 80% of participants reported that they had expressed greater objections than they actually felt to influence the negotiation partner, and said they observed exaggerated objections by their negotiation partners.

Daniel Ames Assertiveness

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 these intentional emotional 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:  Nearly 60% of negotiators who were rated as appropriately assertive but felt over-assertive (line-crossing illusion) negotiated the inferior deals 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 negotiation proposals are reasonable in light of alternatives,

-Request feedback on reactions to “strategic umbrage” displays to better understand perceptions of “offer reasonableness,

-Evaluate costs and benefits of specific assertiveness styles:

Gary Yukl

Over-assertiveness may provide the benefit of “claiming value” in a negotiation 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, where 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 minimize 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,
  • 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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Air Time Matters: Speak Up in the First Five Minutes of a Meeting

More than thirty years ago, University of Florida’s Marvin Shaw observed that participation in small group approximates the 80/20 Principle:

Marvin Shaw

Marvin Shaw

In a 5 member team, 2 members make 70% of comments
In a  6 member team, 3 members make 70% of comments
In a  8 member team, 3 members make 67% of comments

Most of the comment contributors were men, and those who speak most are typically viewed as most influential, according to Melissa Thomas-Hunt of University of Virginia.
This suggests that women can be at a disadvantage in groups if they don’t speak up.

Melissa Thomas-Hunt

Melissa Thomas-Hunt

Thomas-Hunt found that women were less influential in small groups even when they possessed specific expertise in survival skills, a stereotypically male endeavor.
Further, women with elite knowledge were judged as less expert by others.

Conversely, men who possessed expertise were more influential than expert women.
Overall group task performance was affected by these dynamics:  Groups with a female expert made less accurate assessments than groups with a male expert, perhaps because females’ expertise was discounted or ignored due to gender-related expectations for specific competencies.

Christopher Karpowitz

Christopher Karpowitz

Women spoke less when there are fewer women in a group, but not when women predominated and decisions were made by majority rule, according to Christopher Karpowitz of Brigham Young University, Princeton University’s Tali Mendelberg and Lee Shaker of Portland State University.

Tali Mendelberg

Tali Mendelberg

They also found that women spoke equally in small groups when there were few women but the decision required unanimous vote.
One implication is that women benefit from building consensus when they are in the minority.

Powerful women who talk more than male counterparts incur backlash from both male and female observers, according to Victoria Brescoll of Yale.

Victoria Brescoll

Victoria Brescoll

In an experimental study, both female and male volunteers read about a female CEO who talked longer than others.  They judged her as significantly less competent and less suitable for leadership than a male CEO who was reported to speak for the same amount of time.

A high-power woman who talked much less than others was judged as equally competent and capable of leading as a high-power man who talked much more than others.
Raters were less generous in their ratings of a high-power male who talked much less than others:  He was judged as equally incompetent and unsuitable for leadership as a high-power female who talked much more than expected.

This suggests that both men and women are punished for behaviors different from gender-role expectations.

Lee Shaker

Lee Shaker

Women’s tendency not to speak up in groups begins well before they enter the workplace, found Harvard’s Catherine Krupnick.
She and her team investigated differences between male and female students’ participation in classroom discussion and the impact of the instructor’s gender on students’ participation.

They reviewed videotapes of 12 women and 12 men instructors, and concluded that male students talked two and a half times longer than female students when the instructor was male and the majority of the students were male — a frequent situation in many educational and work organizations.
On the other hand, female students spoke almost three times longer when instructors were female.

Women students were interrupted more frequently than their male counterparts, most often by other women, and leading them to withdraw from the discussion for the remainder of the class.

Krupnick posited that women’s lower participation in classrooms – and perhaps in other small groups – may be explained by their:

  • Unwillingness to compete against men,
  • Vulnerability to interruption,
  • Unwillingness to interject into men’s and other women’s long uninterrupted statements, known as “discourse runs,”
  • Individual differences in assertiveness, confidence, and speed of formulating responses.
Elizabeth Aries

Elizabeth Aries

Amherst’s Elizabeth Aries noticed that groups composed entirely of women students tended to have a participatory style in which women took turns and spoke for about equal amounts of time throughout the class hour.

In contrast, male groups appeared more contest-like, with extremely uneven amounts of talk per man.
They competed by telling personal anecdotes or raising their voices to establish hierarchies of participation, and this competitive style persisted in mixed-gender groups.

Kathleen Welch-Torres, then of Yale, compared women’s and men’s assertiveness in class discussions at Yale and Brown (mixed-gender institution) with women’s class participation at Wellesley and Smith (single-gender).
She reported that women at both of the mixed-sex institutions were verbally less assertive than men, by using “hedges,” qualifiers and questioning intonations.
However, women at the single-gender institutions Smith and Wellesley were more assertive than women at Yale and Brown and more assertive than men at the coeducational institutions.

Larraine Zappert

Larraine Zappert

Kendyll Stansbury

Kendyll Stansbury

Welch-Torres linked these behaviors to measures of self-esteem and her findings are similar to those of Stanford’s Laraine Zappert and Kendyll Stansbury  who reported that female graduate students held lower self-esteem, less trust in their judgments, and greater fear of making mistakes than male graduate students.

Recommendations to help women move toward fuller participation in small groups from Melissa Thomas-Hunt and Margaret Neale of Stanford include:

Margaret Neale

Margaret Neale

  • Before a meeting:
    • Ask trusted attendees to:
      • Support your ideas during the meeting,
      • Solicit your input in the meeting,
    • Refer to your specific expertise during the meeting,
    • Set a goal for number of contributions in the first five minutes of a meeting.
    • In a meeting:
      • If interrupted: Restate, rephrase and provide specific evidence based on expertise,
      • Showcase  others’ expertise by soliciting their input,
      • Create environment in which  other participants have equal opportunity to participate,
      • Urge members to consider each alternative, rather than disregarding suggestions presented by “lower status” individual.

-*How do you ensure that your expertise is recognized and influential in small group settings?

*What “best practices” do you apply to ensure active participation by women and minority-group members?

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