Distance may be key in successful negotiations, new study shows

January 18, 2011, University of Texas at Austin

Adding physical distance between people during negotiations may lead to more mutually beneficial outcomes, according to new research from The University of Texas at Austin.

Psychologist Marlone Henderson examined how negotiations that don't take place in person may be affected by distance. He compared distant negotiators (several thousand feet away) with those who are nearby (a few feet away) in three separate studies. While much work has examined the consequences of different forms of non-face-to-face communication, previous research has not examined the effects of physical distance between negotiators independent of other factors. Henderson's findings will be published in the January issue of .

"People tend to concentrate on higher priority items when there is more distance between them by looking at issues in a more abstract way," says Henderson. "They go beyond just thinking about their pursuit of the options presented to them and consider higher-level motives driving their priorities."

For example, when a person is negotiating a new job, he or she might focus his or her behavior on securing health coverage, salary or more vacation time. If he or she sees the connection between behavior and overarching motives—which might be supporting a family—this will help determine priorities on the various issues.

In the first study, 52 University of Chicago undergraduate students engaged in a negotiation via text-exchange with another person who was described as being physically nearby or faraway. They were given the task of buying and selling a customized motorcycle and assigned preferences and priorities. Using an efficiency rating with a maximum score of 1,000, negotiators who thought they were far from each other earned 955 points compared to those nearby counterparts who scored 825. Points earned were based on levels of compromise on both high- and low-level priorities.

In the second study, 76 University of Texas at Austin undergraduate students were told to imagine that they and a stranger walk into a shopping mall at the same time, and a bell sounds just as a giant banner drops down that reads "One-Millionth Customer." Both would share gift sets from four different stores offering five different prizes, but they first must agree on what prize to select from each store. With a maximum score of 1,000, negotiators who thought they were far from each other scored 961 compared to the nearby negotiators who scored 895.

The same task was given to 114 University of Texas at Austin in a third study with slight modifications. Half the group was interrupted with an exercise designed to focus them on their high-level motives by asking them to think about why they wanted particular gift sets from each store. Among the control group, the distant group scored 922 and the nearby group scored 756. But for participants who were asked about their motives, the results were comparable, with the nearby group scoring 946 and the distant group scoring 887.

"When you guarantee that everybody is focused on their higher level motives, distance doesn't really matter as much," says Henderson. "However, when that doesn't happen, distance does matter because the nearby negotiators aren't naturally focusing on their higher level motives as much as the distant negotiators."

Related Stories

Recommended for you

When it comes to our brains, there's no such thing as normal

February 20, 2018
There's nothing wrong with being a little weird. Because we think of psychological disorders on a continuum, we may worry when our own ways of thinking and behaving don't match up with our idealized notion of health. But ...

Jymmin: How a combination of exercise and music helps us feel less pain

February 20, 2018
Pain is essential for survival. However, it could also slow the progress of rehabilitation, or in its chronic form could become a distinct disorder. How strongly we feel it, among other factors, depends on our individual ...

College roommates underestimate each other's distress, new psychology research shows

February 19, 2018
College roommates are sensitive to their roommates' distress but tend to underestimate the level of distress being experienced by others, finds a newly published study from New York University psychology researchers.

Brainwaves show how exercising to music bends your mind

February 18, 2018
Headphones are a standard sight in gyms and we've long known research shows listening to tunes can be a game-changer for your run or workout.

New approaches in neuroscience show it's not all in your head

February 16, 2018
Our own unique experiences shape how we view the world and respond to the events in our lives. But experience is highly subjective. What's distressing or joyful to one person may be very different to another.

Link between hallucinations and dopamine not such a mystery, finds study

February 16, 2018
Researchers at Columbia University Irving Medical Center (CUIMC) and New York State Psychiatric Institute (NYSPI) found that people with schizophrenia who experience auditory hallucinations tend to hear what they expect, ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.