Avoiding the Agreement Trap: Teams Facilitate Impasse in Negotiations with Negative Bargaining Zones

Taya R. Cohen
Carnegie Mellon University, Tepper School of Business

Geoffrey J. Leonardelli
University of Toronto

Leigh Thompson
Northwestern University – Kellogg School of Management

August 6, 2014

Cohen, T. R., Leonardelli, G. J., & Thompson, L. (2014). Avoiding the agreement trap: Teams facilitate impasse in negotiations with negative bargaining zones. Negotiation and Conflict Management Research, 7(4), 232-242
A prior version of this paper was presented at the 2010 IACM conference.


The agreement trap occurs when negotiators reach deals that are inferior to their best alternative agreements. The paper extends prior negotiation research by investigating whether teams display greater wisdom than solos in knowing when to walk away from the negotiating table, and thereby avoid the agreement trap. Two experiments compared teams and solos in a negotiation in which reaching agreement was unwise because of misaligned interests. The negotiation involved a real-estate transaction in which the optimal solution was for the parties to declare an impasse. Study 1 found that two- and three-person teams were significantly more likely than solos to impasse. Study 2 found that the party faced with the greater need to make accurate judgments about the alignment between their own and their counterpart’s interests benefited most from the addition of a teammate. These findings offer insight into why the agreement trap occurs and how it can be reduced.

Avoiding the Agreement Trap- Teams Facilitate Impasse in Negotiations with Negative Bargaining Zones

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