Bargaining zone distortion in negotiations: The elusive power of multiple alternatives

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We challenge the assumption that having multiple alternatives is always better than a single alternative by showing that negotiators who have additional alternatives ironically exhibit downward-biased perceptions of their own and their opponent's reservation price, make lower demands, and achieve worse outcomes in distributive negotiations. Five studies demonstrate that the apparent benefits of multiple alternatives are elusive because multiple alternatives led to less ambitious first offers (Studies 1–2) and less profitable agreements (Study 3). This distributive disadvantage emerged because negotiators’ perception of the bargaining zone was more distorted when they had additional (less attractive) alternatives than when they only had a single alternative (Studies 1–3). We further found that this multiple-alternatives disadvantage only emerges when negotiators used quantitative (versus qualitative) evaluation standards to gauge the extremity of their offers (Study 4), and when they base their offers on their own numerical alternative(s) versus on opponent information (Study 5).

Original languageEnglish
JournalOrganizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes
Pages (from-to)156-171
Number of pages16
Publication statusPublished - 01.11.2016

    Research areas

  • Business psychology - Alternatives, Anchoring, Bargaining zone, BATNA, First offer, Multiple alternatives, Negotiations, Power, Scale distortion