APPROACHES TO A BUSINESS NEGOTIATION
TEAMWORK, HUMOUR AND TEACHING
Helsinki School OF Economics
ACTA UNIVERSITATIS OECONOMICAE HELSINGIENSIS
A – 261
Approaches to a Business Negotiation Case Study: Teamwork, Humour and Teaching
This dissertation is a report on a series of three studies on a business negotiation case. It addresses
dimensions of business negotiations that emerged from the authentic case study at hand: it argues that teamwork and humour have significant strategic potential for negotiations, and should therefore be taught on negotiation skills courses. The questions that these three studies address are the following: Study 1: teamwork of a sales team; Study 2: humour in a competitive client negotiation; Study 3; teaching negotiating in business.
In Study 1, two meetings were under scrutiny: a company-internal strategy meeting of a sales team (‘the sellers’ internal meeting’, SIM), which was analysed on a general level for goals and other background information; and a client negotiation (CN) with the same sellers meeting a potential customer, which was under detailed analysis for its interactional structure and the realisation of goals. The analysis revealed some interactional strategies that were used by the negotiators when trying to reach goals as a sales team in a competitive business context, when the goals are known as they had been expressed in the SIM. Although business negotiations have been shown to be constrained by
factors such as the surrounding business context and seller and buyer behaviour of a particular kind, according to the results of the present study the goals the participants attempt to achieve in a negotiation affect the structure of the interaction. This would mean that the factors constraining the negotiators’ behaviour are not static but are modified by the goals the negotiators set out to achieve.
In Study 2, the same data was used. The analysis revealed that there were differences in the sellers’ humour in the two meetings. The meetings lasted equally long, but the SIM featured more humour than the CN. The sellers also resort to humour in the CN but they are more cautious about the subject of their joking: they may be wary of losing the image of a convincing selling company. Among the most common subjects of humour are the national characteristics of the Finns – the parent selling company is Finnish – the project itself and selling activity. The most common types of joking in the two meetings are ironic exaggerations, and joking where an incongruity is expressed. However, irony is used more cautiously in the CN than in the SIM. Joking seems power-related and power is a factor that influences who has the right to initiate and end instances of joking, and whose joking is laughed at. In Study 2, the sellers often initiate humorous communication after a problematic part of negotiation, possibly in order to humour the buyers. Difficult issues are also embarked upon via humour. Mitigating a possible offence through humour can be considered strategic use of humour. It is also in the sellers’ interest to humour the buyers in competitive stages of the buying process (e.g. supplier search) in order to ‘stay in the game’. Additionally, humour seems to be used for strategic purposes – pursuing goals – particularly in instances of ‘seller joking’ and ‘buyer joking’, in which the opposing party does not participate.