Love or hate the new president, there's one characteristic of Donald Trump that just about everyone can agree on -- the guy likes to drive a hard bargain.

Not only does the president himself trumpet his take-no-prisoners negotiating style in his speeches and books, but his willingness to ruffle feathers and make enemies in pursuit of a good deal was central to his campaign's promise to "make America great again."

We may be bitterly divided over the effectiveness of this approach, but we're all really familiar with it. And that, in itself, might already be having consequences, new science suggests.

Whether the president's efforts to strike a better deal for America results in redemption or disaster, a Wharton School researcher recently uncovered evidence that it may have already altered how Americans -- and American men in particular -- approach negotiations.

It appears, in short, that Trump's style may be rubbing off on people.

Are men starting to behave more like Trump?

As the Washington Post's Jena McGregor reports, Wharton's Corinne Low wasn't interested in politics at all. An economist, her research was all about uncovering the ways men and women behave differently in negotiations.

But like everyone else, she still had to keep going to work despite the surreal presidential election. That meant her studies produced data on how men and women approached various negotiating games both before and after the election of Donald Trump (these negotiations were generally conducted via chat so they could be objectively scored by other experts). When she looked at the numbers, she saw something startling:

Comparing the results from lab tests she ran during early and late October with tests she ran the week after the election, she noticed a change she called "extremely stark:" On the whole, negotiating partners were more adversarial in their chat-based communication threads. In particular, men were more aggressive when they negotiated with counterparts they knew ... were female, using hardball tactics more often.

"We didn't know what to expect when we looked at the data after the election," Low said in an interview. "But the data was screaming at us that there was an effect."

A paper writing up the findings is set to be published in May and will no doubt spur discussion of whether this is a real effect. The data sets aren't huge -- 232 participants in October before the election and 152 after, with a total of 772 negotiations recorded -- and there may be some other difference that explains the later group's more aggressive behavior, though Low tried to control for factors, like party affiliation, that might offer alternate explanations for the shift.

Also, as data was only collected over a few months, it's unclear whether this was a one time "pop" in aggressiveness that resulted from study subjects being worked up about the election, or whether the change in negotiating tactics will hold steady. You can check out the complete article for much more detail on the methodology and its limitations.

More aggressive negotiating means worse negotiating.

It's important to note though, that despite these significant caveats, this wasn't a minor change in people's behavior that was detectable only after endless arcane statistical manipulations. Men got way more aggressive. The use of hardball, take-it-or-leave-it tactics went up 140 percent.

"That's a huge effect size in laboratory literature," Low commented. "We've never seen anything like that."

The knee-jerk response of some to that might be "Good! America needs more tough negotiators." But Low points out that, in the type of negotiations she studies at least -- ones where failing to reach a consensus means everyone goes home with nothing -- more aggressive negotiating meant worse negotiating.

"Not only was the communication more aggressive, it was also less effective," Low notes. Which means this uptick in Art of the Deal-style pushiness -- if it's a real phenomenon -- probably isn't a good thing for the men employing it, their negotiating partners, or their companies.

Are you buying the notion that Trump's election is already affecting men's negotiating styles? And if so, what's your reaction?

Published on: Mar 8, 2017
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