Humor is the sunshine of the mind - and can be useful in negotiations

April 19, 2018

You don’t have to be deadly serious at the bargaining table - humor, carefully measured, can facilitate reaching an agreement.

When carefully used, humor can enhance reaching an agreement, according to Finnish researchers who conducted a comparative study of two real-world negotiations. The first one was an internal sales team meeting in which the businesspeople tried to agree on a strategy to land a specific customer. The second one was the following negotiation between the sales team and the potential customer.

The researchers analyzed audiotapes of each negotiation and found many similarities between the types of humor used. In both negotiations, it was conveyed through tone and attitude, rather than through simple joke telling. The casualness of the humor had an in-group quality. This means that remarks that drew laughs would be meaningless to people who weren’t in that particular organization or industry. Furthermore, many sayings in the conversations wouldn’t seem funny in written language, but provoked giggles because of their tonality and verbal expression.

Humor made the interaction between the negotiators seem effortless and easily broke the ice. Cheeky remarks about the pressures that everyone at the table faced created a common bound. In addition, it also made handling conflictual situations easier, i.e. when someone had said something awkward or accidentally aggressive.

When comparing the internal and external negotiations, one could observe certain differences. Particularly the salespeople hesitated to use humor in front of their client. It was most likely an attempt to seem more businesslike. They also oriented towards the boss, or the highest hierarchical leader in their team, to see the conversional boundaries. They also laughed hardest at his jokes.

The bottom line here is not to come up with scripted jokes or humorous comments in the preparation of a negotiation, but rather to be aware of the fact that humor can be a symptom of relational tension, as well as its potential antidote.

Resource: “Laughing Matters: Humor as a Strategic Ressource in Cross-Cultural Business Negotiations,” by Taina Vuorela . Negotiation Journal, 2005.

ISMAN & Partner
ISMAN & Partner ist eine Unternehmensberatung, die nationale und internationale Konzerne, mittelständische Betriebe und Start-ups, Organisationen und Institutionen bei komplexen Verhandlungs- und Konfliktlösungsprozessen begleitet. 2015 von Calin-Mihai Isman gegründet, unterstützen die Experten für Negotiation & Mediation Manager und Mitarbeiter aus den Bereichen Sales, Einkauf, M&A, Contracting, HR oder IT.


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