Negotiating Tips – Be Careful if Your Opponent Is Attractive

(Here is another in our end of year "best of" review of our favourite light-hearted articles from 2015).

Negotiating Tips - be careful if  your opponent is attractive... But not in the way you might think this article is going to go! We're not talking about impressionable men being led astray by attractive women (or indeed vice versa) and conceding negotiating points in order to curry favour with the beauty sitting opposite.

No, a recent study has pointed out a potential issue when it a man versus man negotiation. Their findings show that men are more likely to take risks when they are faced with a good looking man. As the New Scientists explains:

In what seems to be a kind of compensating behaviour, when heterosexual men see another man they perceive as being more attractive than themselves, they try to increase their wealth. They make high-risk, high-return decisions, says Eugene Chan from the University of Technology Sydney in Australia.

He did four behavioural experiments involving 820 men and women. After being shown pictures of attractive men, the heterosexual men in the study were more likely to choose a riskier bet when given the choice than at other times, or than when shown a picture of an attractive woman.

The theory is that this is evolutionary-driven behaviour. Men compete with each other to gain access to the most desirable women. One way of competing is through looks; another is through wealth. So if a man feels he cannot compete on the grounds of attractiveness, he is more likely to try hard to compete on the financial side. And this might lead him to take more risk to try and gain wealth rapidly to outdo his rival.

So how does this translate to a negotiation situation? We are extrapolating somewhat here, but note that Chan’s findings did not need a women to be present to generate the risky behaviour. So it could mean that a male negotiator, faced with a more attractive opponent, will be more likely to take risks to seek financial reward, or perhaps push hard to prove himself in ways other than looks.

Now of course, this might be exactly what the organisation wants from its negotiator! I might prefer to have “the ugly guy” negotiating for me, fighting hard on my side to put one over the Adonis on their team. On the other hand, that could go too far, if it meant taking big rinks in the negotiation, or refusing to accept perfectly reasonable compromises.

But would the effect be magnified, I wonder, if an attractive woman was also involved in the negotiation? Might that encourage more macho behaviour, perhaps from all the men?

It's actually interesting stuff, not just a silly story which it at first seemed. And when the same experiment was carried out on women, there was no similar outcome - women did not seem to be motivated to take risks in that way. (Too sensible).


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