University of Southern California

Making a "Positive Impression"
Study Shows Gender Stereotypes Affect Perception of Negotiation Tactics
August 18, 2008 • by News at Marshall

New research from the USC Marshall School of Business reveals that when people are trying to make a positive impression, they may behave in ways that contradict gender stereotypes, but not necessarily to their benefit.

The study, carried out by Jennifer Overbeck of Marshall's department of Management and Organization and Jared Curhan of MIT's Sloan School of Management, assigned 190 MBA students to same-sex groups to represent either a high-status recruiter or a low-status job candidate engaged in a standard employment negotiation simulation.

Half of the participants were offered an additional cash incentive to make a positive impression on their negotiation counterparts. When incented to make a positive impression, men and women in the high-status role acted in ways that contradicted gender stereotypes. Women negotiated more aggressively and men negotiated in a more appeasing manner.

"The findings were surprising," said Overbeck, an assistant professor of management and organization, who has taught negotiation to Marshall MBA students for five years. "We thought the impression motivator would intensify impression response, meaning that if you were conciliatory, you’d become more so, but being aware of making a good impression made the subjects do the opposite."

In the study, women who were motivated to make a positive impression, perhaps in an effort to refute the stereotype that they are weak or ineffective negotiators, advocated more strongly for their own interests. In contrast, men who were motivated to make a positive impression, perhaps in an effort to refute the stereotype that they are overly aggressive, yielded to the demands of the other side.

While the men's strategy of behaving in a more conciliatory fashion apparently succeeded in producing a positive impression in the counterparts’ eyes, the women's strategy of behaving more assertively failed to create a more positive impression. Instead, women who behaved more assertively were judged more negatively.

"Men who try to make a positive impression by being conciliatory risk forfeiting their own economic outcomes and women who try to make positive impressions by being assertive can risk damaging their relationships."

"One implication of the study is that people have a menu of options when it comes to negotiating behavior and they need to choose strategically," said Overbeck. "If you are establishing a new relationship, you can take a hit financially; when the economic outcome is more important and the relationship isn't needed or already established, more aggressive tactics can be pulled out from time to time. Our recommendation is that the more negotiators of both sexes are conscious of dynamics affecting negotiation, the more planning or practicing they can and should do.

The study published in a recent issue of the journal Negotiation and Conflict Management Research.

About the USC Marshall School of Business
Consistently ranked among the nation's premier schools, USC Marshall is internationally recognized for its emphasis on entrepreneurship and innovation, social responsibility and path-breaking research. Located in the heart of Los Angeles, one of the world's leading business centers and the U.S. gateway to the Pacific Rim, Marshall offers its 5,700-plus undergraduate and graduate students a unique world view and impressive global experiential opportunities. With an alumni community spanning 123 countries, USC Marshall students join a worldwide community of thought leaders who are redefining the way business works.