Assertiveness is sort of like Goldilocks. Too much or too little and you do not get what you want. Only just right really works.
In a new study from Columbia, researchers asked us to imagine a bell-shaped curve with success as the vertical y-axis and pushiness as the x-axis. As you move up the curve success and pushiness both increase. Then though, the curve heads south on the success scale as “pushiness” continues to rise.
How to know when you have reached an optimal amount of assertiveness that brings success in negotiations? That is the problem.
The study from Columbia was about our lack of self-awareness. In laboratory simulations and through questionnaires researchers found that relatively frequently, people inaccurately perceived their own assertiveness.
The misjudgment takes place in two ways. Thinking our negotiating has been too pushy, not pushy enough, or just right, we incorrectly assess the way we act. Also though, we incorrectly perceive how our adversaries judge our behavior. For example, in one experiment, 19 percent of the participants said they were over-assertive, but 41 percent believed their “adversary” perceived them as over-assertive. Even more interesting, the people who behaved appropriately (according to their counterparts) thought they were perceived as too pushy. Or, as the authors of the paper said, “… we may live in a world of oblivious jerks and unwitting pushovers, with many people assuming their assertiveness, like Goldilocks’ porridge, is just right.”
This diagram displays the results of one of their experiments:
Our Bottom Line: Costly Negotiations
Mistaken self-awareness can be costly. Not knowing when we should tone down our assertiveness, move it up a notch, or maintain it, we behave inappropriately. The result? When we negotiate suboptimally, we diminish whatever we will take home from that salary meeting, divorce settlement, takeover bid or those climate change talks.