Gratitude in Negotiations: Should You be Neutral or Positive?

Positive psychology research extols the benefits of expressing gratitude, to the point that some experts advise keeping a daily ‘gratitude journal.’

However, in at least one setting, this positive emotion can backfire: during competitive interactions.

Researchers (Yip et al., 2018) conducted five experiments to learn how people respond when their counterparts voice thanks in the midst of negotiations.

  1. Scenario One:
    • A computer simulation in which participants acted as buyers negotiating the price of a backpack.
    • Those whose first bid elicited grateful comments along with the seller’s counteroffer (“Thanks for your offer of $60!!! This is really great”) made lower second bids than participants who received neutral comments (“Got your offer of $60…here’s my counteroffer”).
  2. Scenario Two:
    • Subjects played the role of a landlord looking to rent out an apartment.
    • Those whose first offer was countered with gratitude made more-aggressive second offers than those whose potential tenant responded neutrally.

Subsequent experiments showed that expressions of gratitude signal that a negotiator is likely to be forgiving and that counterparts’ responses often extend to cheating and deception.

“Individuals would benefit from thinking more deliberately and strategically about expressing gratitude” in competitive contexts, the researchers say.

The researcher also stated that it is fine to feel grateful if your counterpart makes a concession, but you should save any actual thank yous until a signed agreement is in hand.

Reference

Yip, J.A., Chan, C., Lee, K.K. & Brooks, A.W. (2018) Thanks for Nothing: Expressing Gratitude Invites Exploitation by Competitors. Available from World Wide Web: https://www.hbs.edu/faculty/Publication%20Files/18-081_00ece953-320c-4f90-8318-c9cebbbd4bf4.pdf. [Accessed: 13 June, 2019].

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