negotiation-impasseYou may think when two people are negotiating something and the language they use is similar, they must be connecting at some level and getting closer to a resolution. The opposite may be true, according to an article in Discover magazine. They may be getting farther apart and a resolution may be less likely.

“It sounds counterintuitive because we think of similarity…as good for relationships,” Texas Tech University psychologist Molly Ireland is quoted as saying, “But of course matching another person’s mental state won’t bring two people closer together if both are thinking about how they can destroy each other.”

Ireland and University of Texas psychologist James Pennebaker performed research on language used during negotiations. After Pennebaker heard a section of a play where two characters were talking to each other about their relationship breaking up, using similar terms, he realized the use of the same or similar words didn’t reflect on how much the speakers liked each other, but how much they’re paying attention to each other’s mental and emotional states.

Pennebaker reached the conclusion that that the act of matching another person’s language style reflects and amplifies attention to social cues (positive or negative).

  • In a competitive or hostile situation like a negotiation, that could be a recipe for failure.
  • The parties would be better off focusing on the task at hand, reaching an agreement.
  • If they do that, it will probably be reflected in different words and phrasing.

Ireland says her research shows that the more negotiators used similar styles of language, matching each other pronoun for pronoun, article for article, the more likely they would reach an impasse.

  • It wasn’t so much the number of words related to a function used that mattered, it was how closely their particular styles of using them matched.
  • She states that language style matching shows psychological engagement between the parties and negotiators getting too psychologically attuned during a contentious interaction didn’t bode well for reaching a resolution.

When you’re in negotiation and find yourself using very similar language as your colleague, it’s a sign that both of you are focusing on the wrong thing. Making a connection with the other party and understanding their viewpoints and perceptions are a means to an end (reaching a resolution) not ends unto themselves. You need to get back on track to negotiating a settlement.