Negotiating as a Team or Alone: Which is more effective?

Topic(s): culture, teams
Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology (2013)
Article: Toward a culture-by-context perspective on negotiation: Negotiating teams in the United States and Taiwan
Authors: Michele J. Gelfand, Jeanne Brett, Brian C. Gunia, Lynn Imai, Tsai-Jung Huang, and Bi-Fen Hsu
Reviewed by: Scott Charles Sitrin

In our globalized economy, business negotiations often involve people from different cultures. Consequently, researchers have begun to study the effects of culture on negotiation. In their study, Gelfand et al. look at negotiations by Americans and Taiwanese.

Previous research showed that Americans negotiating as a team are more effective than Americans negotiating as individuals. Building upon this previous bit of research, the authors compared the efficacy of Taiwanese who negotiated as a team to Taiwanese who negotiated individually. Perhaps surprisingly, in contrast to American negotiators, Taiwanese who negotiated as a team were less effective than Taiwanese who negotiated individually. In explaining these results, the authors suggest that collectivist cultures such as that of Taiwan are more focused on community well being and harmony than individualistic cultures such as America’s where greater importance is placed on the individual.

When people are in groups, cultural tendencies tend to get amplified. Americans are more individualistic when surrounded by other Americans, while a Taiwanese person in a group of Taiwanese becomes less individualistic and more concerned about the group. But what does that mean when it comes to deciding who to send to negotiate the big contract? Consider the cultural tendencies of those involved and what outcomes you would like to see. An individual from a collectivist culture may be more aggressive when solo, more accommodating in a group, while someone from an individualist country, like America, may be more demanding and independent when teamed with other individualists.

Have you ever been part of a multi-national team and how did that effect negotiations? We’d love to read your insights in our comment section below.