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  Professor Jeanne Brett
© Evanston Photographic
Professor Jeanne M. Brett
  The Handbook of Negotiatiosn and Culture
Faculty Bookshelf: The Handbook of Negotiations and Culture

Minding the culture gap
Kellogg Professor Jeanne Brett’s new book on negotiation points up the importance of knowing who you’re dealing with across the table

by Deborah Leigh Wood

By its very title, The Handbook of Negotiation and Culture (Stanford University Press) implies that culture is an integral part of negotiation. The truth is, some people still need to be persuaded, which is the purpose of the book, says its co-editor, Jeanne M. Brett, DeWitt W. Buchanan Jr. Distinguished Professor of Dispute Resolution and Organizations at the Kellogg School.

“We wanted to show that you can’t ignore culture when trying to understand what negotiators do,” says Brett, who is director of the Kellogg Dispute Resolution Research Center. “Understanding culture is essential when negotiating across national boundaries, as well as when assessing the party on the other side of the same-culture negotiating table.”

The book was published this summer and offers an in-depth survey of the negotiation landscape.

Brett believes that negotiation theory, which traditionally has been grounded in Western culture, ignores the often strikingly different customs peculiar to other cultures. For example, “Westerners frequently will reveal a great deal about their own positions in negotiations, trusting the other party to reciprocate,” she says. “Asians, however, tend to be much more reticent to reveal information, and trust has to be built on a foundation of benevolent behavior.” Brett says more information stemming from a cross-cultural perspective will come to light as research into the social psychology of negotiation and culture gains momentum.

When working on the text with co-editor Michele J. Gelfand, associate professor of psychology at the University of Maryland, Brett says they tried to “gather scholars who do excellent negotiation research and subtly expose them to the cultural biases hidden in that research.”

The book’s structure reflects its editors’ mission: Chapters on traditional negotiation theory are paired with chapters on the cultures relevant to that theory. The book covers psychological processes such as cognition, motivation and emotion; the negotiation process; and the social context of negotiation. Topics include motivation, power and disputing as well as intergroup relationships, third parties, justice, technology and social dilemmas.

In addition to Brett, the Kellogg School is well represented in the book with essays by David Messick, the Morris and Alice Kaplan Professor of Ethics and Decision in Management; Leigh Thompson, the J. Jay Gerber Distinguished Professor of Dispute Resolution and Organizations; and Margaret Neale, former Kellogg School professor. Kellogg alumni also contributed a number of essays: Wendi Lyn Adair, Zoe I. Barsness, Shirli Kopelman, Kathleen L. McGinn, Debra L. Shapiro, Catherine H. Tinsley, J. Mark Weber and Laurie R. Weingart all appear in the book.

Messick writes about a common social dilemma, the fundamental conflict between the short-term interests of individuals and the longer-term interests of the groups of which they’re a part. He and Weber examine how individuals balance their idiosyncratic agendas and values against those of the larger context in which they find themselves. In the paired chapter, Brett and co-author Shirli Kopelman write about the cultural norms and ideologies that affect such quandaries.

Leigh Thompson and her co-authors discuss emotional biases, a hot new topic that extends previous seminal research on cognitive biases conducted at Kellogg in the 1980s. The authors assert that strong emotions generally are counterproductive to forging agreements in business.

Brett says The Handbook of Negotiation and Culture should offer new insights to those intellectually curious about this evolving arena, including the ways scholars and practitioners can capitalize on the synergy between culture and negotiation research.

©2002 Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University