To Get What You Want in a Negotiation, Be Deferential

Showing dominance in a negotiation seems like a sure-fire way to win, but a new study challenges that notion. 


One might think that when negotiating, taking a dominant stance will result in our “winning” the negotiation. However, a new study done by the University of Southern California, led by Scott Wiltermuth, challenges that idea with a bolder and seemingly counterintuitive discovery: Sometimes it’s better to act deferential. “Dominance Complementary,” wherein one person in an interaction behaves more deferentially and one more dominantly, actually leads to greater success.

Acting deferentially doesn’t mean acting classically “submissive,” in the sense of ignoring your own wishes/desires/opinions, but rather behaving in a way that makes the dominant person feel competent, respected, and unthreatened. One can do this by asking questions and creating a conversational tone. When the dominant person feels that their ego is not under attack or being questioned, it opens up the table for dialogue.

Harvard Law School's Dan Shapiro says emotions make negotiations successful, not facts and figures.

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