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Author:Vuorela, Taina. 
Title:Approaches to a business negotiation : case study: teamwork, humour and teaching
Series:Acta Universitatis oeconomicae Helsingiensis. A, 1237-556X ; 261.
Series no:A-261
Year:2005  Thesis defence date: 2005-12-07
Discipline:International Business Communication
Electronic dissertation: » dissertation in pdf-format   [1060 KB]
Index terms:Decision making; Johtaminen; Management; Negotiation; Neuvottelut; Päätöksenteko; Team work; Tiimityö
Abstract (eng):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.

In Study 3, the aim was to compare Business English (BE) -oriented material used in language instruction of negotiating skills with the results obtained from studying authentic business negotiations in Studies 1 and 2. The textbooks were chosen on the basis of their easy accessibility to students and commonality of use in higher education in Finland. According to the results of the study, textbooks have evolved from the 1980s in that most of them do include some business context and some strive to refer to authentic use of language. A comparison was also made between business-oriented literature on negotiations, written by business consultants, and language instruction-oriented material. The observation was made that while consultative literature mostly ignores the concept of language, and, in general discusses communication briefly and often superficially, the business context of languageoriented material tends to be superficial in nature. Consequently, the study provides support for integrated courses on learning negotiating skills in business, where the material used would incorporate both business and language instruction material, and possibly business and language instructors working together. Although the idea is not new, as such teaching practices already exist in some establishments of tertiary business education, it could be taken into use more extensively. Such an approach to teaching the skills required in successful business negotiating would enable students to assume a more holistic view of the negotiation process, with a more in-depth understanding of the relevant concepts affecting transactional interaction, such as the power linked to different professional roles in varying contexts. The approach could be beneficial in corporate training as well.