Research on Negotiation Shows How Trust Can Be Improved Amongst Teams in the Workplace - Pollack Peacebuilding Systems

September 23, 2021by Anupriya Kukreja

Summary of:

Swaab, R. I., Lount Jr, R. B., Chung, S., & Brett, J. M. (2021). Setting the stage for negotiations: How superordinate goal dialogues promote trust and joint gain in negotiations between teams. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 167, 157-169.

Background & Theory

In a workplace, it is common for teams to go through discord, conflict, and disagreement. In this research, the authors have sought to utilize the process of Structured Dialogue, through which teams can establish cooperative interdependence between themselves. They also study superordinate goal dialogues as a way to further improve outcomes surrounding trust and dialogue. Via four face-to-face negotiation studies, they draw nuanced conclusions around what conditions goal dialogues are most likely to increase joint gain, versus not. Superordinate goals are defined as “dialogue between two parties that focuses on the superordinate outcomes that both parties hope to accomplish but cannot attain by themselves.”

Research Question(s)

The authors presented the following hypotheses:

    1. Superordinate goal dialogues between teams will increase joint gain.
    2. Superordinate goal dialogues between teams will increase trust.
    3. a: Superordinate goal dialogues between teams will increase joint gain because they promote trust, which increases the use of Q&A strategy
      b: Superordinate goal dialogues between teams will increase joint gain because they promote trust, which decreases the use of the substantiation and offer (S&O) strategy.


The author conducted 4 studies to test the hypotheses:

In Study 1, 341 undergraduate business school students participated. There was a team condition who were made to negotiate an adapted version of the game Sweet Shops and required them to assume the role of a bakery or ice-cream shop owner. They were divided into teams of two and dyads.

In Study 2, 284 MBA students enrolled in a negotiations course at a global business school were the participants. Groups were randomly allocated to a pre-negotiation superordinate goal dialogue condition or a control condition. They negotiated “Cartoon” and represented a buyer or a seller and negotiated four issues concerning the syndication of a television show.

In Study 3, participants were 582 MBA students enrolled in an introductory leadership course at a global business school. They were randomly divided into study groups and then two teams. They represented a team of Directors and a team of Producers in an exercise adapted from The Player negotiation, where they had to negotiate seven issues associated with the production of a film.

In Study 4, 487 undergraduate business students randomly allocated participants to groups and teams and randomly assigned roles between teams, to one of two conditions: pre-negotiation superordinate goal dialogues or pre-negotiation control allowing for schmoozing. The task was the same as in Study 1.


In Study 1, consistent with hypothesis 1, the joint gain was higher when teams engaged in superordinate goal dialogues. In Study 2, superordinate goal dialogues between teams did increase trust.

In Study 3, the positive effect of superordinate goal dialogues is robust in a setting where team members know each other and have the willingness to pursue these goals collectively. In Study 4, teams engaging in superordinate goal dialogues achieve higher joint gain because these dialogues develop trust, which then leads them to decrease their use of a competitive S&O strategy.

How This Translates for the Workplace

  1. Encourage goal dialogues: The researchers observed that teams who engaged in dialogue had better joint gain and trust. They had also concluded that “merely providing an opportunity to communicate is not always sufficient to facilitate cooperation. Negotiating teams need to plan both the nature and timing of their discussions to facilitate trust, cooperation and joint gain.”. Hence, a good way to promote teams and departments at the workplace to engage in dialogue intentionally can be through design, planned inter-team dialogue days, and involving neutral, third party negotiators to lead the discussion frequently as well.
  2. Have diversity and inclusion workshops frequently: Such workshops can improve trust between employees of different backgrounds, races, nationalities, and their ability to have more eased dialogue across departments. We at PPS offer training for workplaces in diversity, inclusion, as well as conflict resolution. Contact us to get in touch!

Anupriya Kukreja

Anupriya Kukreja is a graduate in Political Science and Psychology from Ashoka University in India. She has interned at Hospitals in their psychology departments and worked at reputed policy organizations, as well as been an Albright Fellow at Wellesley College. At PPS, she examines the latest research in international conflict and writes about how such methods may apply to conflict in the workplace. She is also a part of APA Division 48’s official Newsletter "The Peace Psychologist’s" editorial team. Her long-term career goal is to apply the lens of Behaviour science to Public Policy, Conflict Resolution, and Organizational Transformation.

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