Do Negotiators Have a Personality?

Published: Jul 25 , 2013
Author: David Bannister

'Of course!' I hear you say, 'lover of Mozart, GSOH, NS and follower of Yorkshire County cricket!' 

That's not what I meant, actually.  I am wondering if there is a particular personality type who might make a more natural negotiator than other types do.  I have to tell you that if you are compelled to read further, please do, but I am not going to give the answer to the question, because I don't know it.  I intend to try to find out, though.

Where to start?  A friend of mine who was doing his PhD in the psychology of personality was being supervised by no less an authority than the great Hans Eysenck.  Eysenck told my friend that if you locked two psychologists in a room and told them they could not come out until they had an agreed definition of personality, you would never see either of them again.  Not a good start point, I hear you say.  So, let me begin by saying that my favoured approach to the study of personality is what is called trait theory which, simply put, means that personality is defined by a number of features or 'traits' - one of the most enduring of which is the 16 'factors' of personality proposed by Raymond Cattell more than 70 years ago.  The idea is that we all have these traits and the difference between our personalities is the extent or intensity with which we exhibit them - the best example is the omni-present extrovert-introvert continuum.

As someone with training as an occupational psychologist, I use tests of personality a lot.  One of the tests I use frequently has over a hundred of these 'traits' each with three subdivisions of  its own - so, yes, it's thorough.  I find myself wondering which of these in  a negotiator's personality might help effectiveness or might make someone psychologically predisposed to being a good negotiator who would respond well to training and become very good.  I have looked at the things which we in Scotwork say make for effective negotiating - things like thorough preparation, clear proposal making and the willingness to bargain and I have speculated on what type of personality has traits which would lend themselves to this effectiveness.  Would someone who is good at preparation be analytical of information, ask probing questions and seek solutions to problems?  Would someone good at argument be persuasive, challenge others' ideas and explain things well?  All of these things are potentially measurable in self-report questionnaires available to qualified people to administer.  I have started with a view - largely conditioned by my work with Scotwork - that there are things which make negotiators effective.  The question I want to answer is whether we can identify good negotiators by assessing their personalities and preferences before we even see them negotiate.  I am not aware that anyone has done a properly evidenced study of this yet.  I think that, within certain parameters, we could determine the personality of a potentially effective negotiator.  Just think how powerful that could be if you were selecting people to work in certain roles or identifying people to develop as negotiators.

The work on this hasn't started yet, but if you are interested let us know - we will start by needing to gather data and then - watch this space!!

David Bannister



About the author:

David Bannister
My background is human resource consulting, I am a former KPMG consulting partner and head of global HR development with the firm. I began my interest in negotiating as an industrial relations specialist in the early part of my career and have spent many hours with trade union representatives practising what I now preach! I am also a coach and use these skills in my work with Scotwork’s clients.

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