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Setting High Self-Expectations Improves High-Stakes Success

Gain some ground before an interview by thinking about your best negotiating skill. Research has shown it helps boost performance.

The pressure of heading into a negotiation with your boss can be overwhelming. After all, they have the upper hand — they can just say no to your proposal. But when the stakes are high Dr. Sonia Kang has found that taking five minutes for some time for self-affirmations helps boost confidence and performance in negotiations.

Kang empathized in a press release:

“Most people have experienced a time in their lives when they aren’t performing up to their potential. They take a test or have a performance review at work, but something holds them back. Performance in these situations is closely related to how we are expected to behave.”

Kang headed up a study, published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, which shows how a moment of self-affirmation can help lessen the pressure of an upcoming negotiation.

She explained:

“You should reflect on things that you know are good about yourself. Anyone has the potential to do really well. It’s how you respond under pressure that makes a key difference.”

To simulate a high-pressure and low-pressure situation, researchers had half of a group of 134 participants told that they were entering into a negotiation that would gauge their actual skills. The remaining participants were told that the following was simply an exercise in negotiation — a learning experience. As suspected, the high-pressure group fared much worse when judged by recruiters than the low-pressure group.  

The researchers set up another experiment comprised of 60 male MBA students. The participants were paired together as buyer and seller of a hypothetical biotechnology plant. The students who played sellers were in a better position for negotiating rates, and wielded that power by aggressively negotiating higher selling points, while the buyers were less assertive and tended to bend more to the seller’s demands.

In a third experiment, the researchers set up the same scenario, but with a group of 88 MBA students and they were all told the exercise would gauge their negotiating skills in order to put them all in a “high-pressure” state of mind. But before beginning, half the participants were told to write for five minutes about their most important negotiating skill.

The researchers found buyers who completed the positive self-affirmation piece performed significantly better in negotiations against sellers who hadn’t written about their most important negotiating skill.

Kang reflected on the find, saying:

“Anytime you have low expectations for your performance, you tend to sink down and meet those low expectations. Self-affirmation is a way to neutralize that threat.”

Read more at EurekAlert!.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

In his Big Think interview, Assistant Professor of Psychology at Harvard Medical School/McLean Hospital Dan Shapiro talks about negotiating beyond facts and figures, and using that emotional component that drives most of us:


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