Culture, Communication Media, and Emotions in Negotiation: A Mental Models Approach to Unpacking the Effects of Anger and Compassion

Project: Research project

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Culture, Communication Media, and Emotions in Negotiation: A Mental Models Approach to Unpacking the Effects of Anger and Compassion

Negotiation is often an emotion-laden process whereby two or more parties who have incompatible interests need to work out a mutually acceptable solution. Negotiators may come to the meetings with a rational analysis of possible strategies and outcomes. However, many of their aspirations may be thwarted in the encounters with the other party, a precondition for a wide range of emotions to arise. A growing body of research has yielded important insights into what effects different emotions have on negotiators’ own or their counterpart’s negotiation outcomes (e.g., for reviews, see Hunsaker, 2017; Olekalns & Druckman, 2014). However, many findings are inconsistent, and we are theoretically underequipped to explain how and when such effects take place.

One source of inconsistency stems from the fact that a substantial portion of the studies on emotion in negotiations were conducted via computer-mediated communication (CMC). While researchers recognize the difference in the experience and expression of emotions across different communication media and the need to validate their findings using a different methodology (e.g., Hunsakers, 2017; Shao et al., 2015), few have empirically assessed how the effects of emotion may differ in face-to-face (FtF) negotiations versus CMC. As most studies were conducted using western samples, we also know little about the extent to which these patterns are generalizable across cultures.

The main purpose of the study is to advance our theoretical understanding of emotion in negotiation by assessing the dynamic process through which discrete emotions, such as anger and compassion, influence negotiators’ own and their counterparts’ shared mental models (SMM, i.e., amount of overlap in both parties’ cognitive representations of the negotiation situation), mental model adjustment (MMA, i.e., amount of change in each negotiator’s conceptualization of the negotiation situation from before to after the negotiation), reduction of fixed-pie bias, as well as negotiation outcomes in both FtF and CMC settings across two cultures (Americans vs. Chinese). Research that examined mental mmodels in negotiation suggests that SMM and MMA can serve as a fruitful cognitive mechanism for dissolving negotiators’ fixed-pie bias (Liu et al., 2016), a pervasive barrier to reaching integrative outcomes (De Dreu et al., 2000). A mental models approach can therefore help uncover how emotions interact with contextual factors such as communication media and culture on negotiation performance.

Specifically, we contend that felt anger hurts integrative outcomes by restricting negotiators’ SMM and MMA and perpetuating fixed-pie bias, as angry negotiators tend to reduce information exchange and focus attention on distributive aspects of the negotiation; this effect would be more pronounced in FtF negotiations than in CMC. On the other hand, felt compassion helps improve integrative outcomes by increasing negotiators’ SMM and MMA and reducing their fixed-pie bias, as it promotes information exchange and otheroriented attentional focus; this effect would be more pronounced in CMC than FtF. We also contend that the effects of anger would be more pronounced for American negotiators, whereas the effects of compassion would be more pronounced for Chinese negotiators, as their ability to adjust their culturally typical mental models is influenced by both emotion and communication media.

Our pilot study has provided initial evidence supporting our theoretical framework. We will perform a 2 x 2 x 2 experimental design with approximately 400 participants (50 in each condition) to assess how culture interacts with communication media to amplify or mitigate the influence of anger and compassion on negotiators’ mental models both before and after the negotiation at both individual and dyadic levels, as well as on negotiation outcomes.
StatusNot started
Effective start/end date1/01/2531/12/26

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