Research Shows the Value of Confidence for Negotiators in Creating Ideal Resolutions

Summary of:

Tuncel, E., Kong, D. T., Parks, J. M., & van Kleef, G. A. (2020). Face threat sensitivity in distributive negotiations: Effects on negotiator self-esteem and demands. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 161, 255-273. doi: 10.1016/j.obhdp.2020.07.004

Background & Theory

This article examines the relationship between face threat sensitivities and a negotiator’s self-esteem when impacted by either a competitive or cooperative counterpart. For the purpose of this article, face represents one’s reputation/self-esteem, and thus face threat sensitives are anything that threatens “face.” This research focuses specifically on how and why a negotiator may be impacted in both self-esteem and negotiations made when faced with varying counterparts.

Research Questions

Tuncel, Kong, Parks, & van Kleef examine the following questions:

  1. How does a competitive vs. a cooperative counterpart impact a negotiator’s self-esteem?
  2. If self-esteem is negatively impacted, does this then impact the demands and negotiations made?


Three studies were conducted to address the research questions. 

Study 1: As part of study 1, there were two studies conducted: a pilot study and a main study. The goal of the pilot study was to determine what issues mattered most to which groups. There were 279 total participants: all undergraduate students from one university, 127 female/152 male, average age estimated at 19.89 years old. The students were split into two groups to simulate a scenario between union employees and management regarding hourly wages. Students then answered several questions, pertaining to attention check, perceived self-relevance, face threat sensitivity, and demographics (due to these questions, 46 participants were no longer included due to failing the attention check questions). The main study included 158 participants total: all undergraduate students, 78 female/80 male, average age estimated to be 18.75 years. The participants were given a questionnaire and asked to complete this two weeks in advance of a negotiation scenario. The negotiation scenario is similar to the pilot study and was between a union and management regarding hourly wages. Following the negotiation scenario, participants were asked to rate the competitiveness of their counterpart, face threat sensitivities, global self-esteem, and average demand level. Following this, the authors ran the data through statistical analyses to find correlations between the factors.

Study 2: Again, we have a pilot study and a main study. The purpose of study 2 was based on the Dual Perspective Model, and was to evaluate the relationship between distributive negotiations, face threat sensitivities, and agentic concerns of negotiators. The pilot study included 297 participants: 115 female/182 male, average age estimated to be 37.21 years, all living in the United States and spoke English, had at some point participated in negotiations around pay, and were paid $0.50 to participate in this study. Participants were asked what their 3 main concerns for salary/wage negotiations are using LIWC 2015. The main study included 301 participants: 151 female/ 150 male, average age estimated to be 38.10 years old with all above the age of 18, lived in the United States and spoke English, and were paid $0.70 to participate. Participants again placed themselves in a scenario where they were negotiating for salary, though this time as someone who felt they were underpaid for their work. All participants were assigned as employees (though not told this) and the employer was computer-simulated. Participants were to play the scenario out (to the point of making a counteroffer or exiting negotiations) and were assigned either a cooperative or competitive employer. Following this, they completed a questionnaire surrounding the experience regarding competitiveness/cooperativeness of the counterpart, perceived face threat, deception check, global self-esteem, performance self-esteem, social self-esteem, and average demand level. The results then underwent statistical analyses to discover correlations.

Study 3: The purpose of study 3 was to discover the “why” of how a negotiator is impacted by manipulating performance self-esteem. This study only had a main study, of which there were 1073 participants: 660 female/413 male, average age estimated to be 41.83 years, and as in Study 2, all were above age 18, lived in the U.S., and spoke English. A 2×2 factorial design was used for questions: competitiveness/cooperativeness of counterpart x low or high-performance self-esteem; these were randomly distributed to participants to participate in one of the two factors, though participants did not know this; they were assigned a pre-programmed message response to their personality that would either be competitive/cooperative or high/low-performance self-esteem.  Participants were to answer personality questions and questions that gauged negotiation abilities: they were then provided a message that correlated to either high or low-performance self-esteem, though this was unknowingly pre-assigned and not reflective of their true abilities. The second scenario asked them to provide two offers as if they were an employee negotiating wages, and then received (unknowingly) a pre-programmed response, this time the same as used in Study 2. Participants then answered questions regarding: manipulation check of perceived competitiveness/cooperativeness, perceived face threat, face threat sensitivity, social self-esteem, average demand level, and attention check (some questions were the same as in previous studies). The data was then analyzed again using statistics to find correlations between the factors.


Study 1: The results for study 1 showed that a negotiator who experiences high face threat sensitivity in light of a counterpart who is highly competitive, will likely experience overall lower global self-esteem. Global self-esteem, demand level, and final outcome were shown to all be linked to one another, implying that negotiators with low vs. high self-esteem (which is impacted by their counterpart) will change their demands and thus the final outcome depending on how they were impacted (i.e., good outcomes for those with high self-esteem and low competitive counterparts, and bad outcomes for those with low self-esteem and high competitive counterparts). 

Study 2: Global self-esteem appears to be largely impacted by the level of face threat sensitivity and perceived competitiveness of counterparts. The demands that negotiators present, and thus the outcomes of the situation, seem to be impacted by their global and performance self-esteem. Overall, negotiators tend to have more agentic concerns rather than communal concerns; when negotiators have a competitive counterpart, high face threat sensitivity, and high agentic concerns, it’s shown that they will likely not make strong demands and thus experience a less favorable outcome than desired. 

Study 3: Study 3 showed that competitiveness does appear to be seen as a higher face threat sensitivity than cooperativeness, and also that negotiators who were told they held lower performance abilities had lower self-esteem overall. When taking all factors into consideration, there is most certainly a correlation between low performance self-esteem and high face threat sensitivity in a negotiator resulting in lower demands and less desired outcome with a more competitive counterpart. In other words, performance self-esteem appears to be one of the main causes of lower demands for negotiators who perceive higher face threat sensitivity. 

Overall, it’s concluded that competitive counterparts do impact a negotiator’s self-esteem (not necessarily social self-esteem, but global and performance self-esteem specifically), but generally in the context that the negotiator has higher threat sensitivity. When this happens, a negotiator is very likely to compromise more, make less demands, and receive a less favorable and desirable outcome. 

What This Means

  • A negotiator must be confident in order to achieve the best results. It’s only natural that some people are particularly affected by a competitive counterpart, and that for some this will affect self-esteem. It’s not necessarily an easy fix, as this can very much be part of one’s personality; however, finding ways to remain confident and to not allow oneself to feel demeaned or depreciated can lead to a much better result.
  • It’s presumed that mediators can also be impacted by the groups they are working with, and resistance to ideas or the work done. Knowing oneself, the best way for a path forward, and the groups involved may help in maintaining confidence and positive self-esteem, and thus lead to a more positive resolution.

Final Takeaway

For consultants: The best way to maintain confidence despite competitive or unyielding clients is to know yourself, your abilities, and the proper techniques to move forward. It may be difficult to change their minds or have them open up to your ideas, but maintaining your stance (when correct) is critical to a positive outcome.

For everyone: Find ways to increase your confidence. We all encounter situations where we may need to negotiate, be it for pay at work, bargaining for an item, etc. Knowing yourself well and understanding your abilities is a good way to ensure your future success.