What hat do you wear when you negotiate? A conservative Homburg, a swaggering Stetson, a gangster’s Fedora? If you’re literal-minded like me, you may say that you don’t wear one at all. But Shirli Kopelman, professor at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business and executive director of the International Association for Conflict Management, says all negotiators wear hats of some kind or another.
In Negotiating Genuinely: Being Yourself in Business (Stanford Briefs, 2014), Kopelman explains that when managers and executives enter negotiations, they typically assume a role—the proverbial hat. Wearing it “implies calculated self-interest with a dose of inauthenticity, or walling off vulnerable parts of ourselves.” This description may sound familiar to you. I know I’ve experienced the disconcerting feeling of sitting down with a heretofore friendly client to talk about a contract and finding that the client’s body has been possessed by a hard-eyed stranger who is determined to wring every possible concession out of me.
Kopelman, who broadly defines negotiations, thinks that even more enlightened win-win negotiators can find themselves impaired by the hat they wear. It’s as if the negotiator’s hat includes a set of blinders that artificially limits the options of every party in the negotiation. She says that we all wear multiple hats in our lives, and that each one represents a different role that comes with its own resources and constraints. (For instance, a business executive may also be a parent, a child, a spouse, a soccer fan, a scuba diver, or a church deacon.) But, Kopelman says, if we can integrate our hats, we might be able to use their combined assets to negotiate in a more genuine way and craft superior outcomes.
“Negotiating genuinely—wearing your integrated hat—enhances creativity, draws on diverse strengths, aligns you with your moral compass, and enables you to straddle the complex dualities of negotiations: Focusing on both the task and the people,” writes Kopelman.
How do you go about integrating your hats? In her slim book, Kopelman says to start by listing the names of all the hats you wear (she has 14 on her list). Then, define the domain in which you wear each hat, the people with whom you negotiate when wearing it, and the resources you negotiate for when wearing it. Finally, consider how you can integrate key elements of each hat.
This sounds pretty nebulous, and it does contradict common practice, which says the only hat you need to wear when negotiating is the one that will benefit your side the most. But Kopelman suggests you work through the exercise. “The key is that the process of hat integration transforms your hats into a single integral hat. It is not about impression management, nor is it a façade nor a mask, but a genuine reflection of you as person,” she says. “The integral hat becomes a metaphorical container that symbolically carries your identity as it ephemerally (momentarily), yet repeatedly, comes into being, reflecting you as a negotiator who fully engages with other people.”
It’s an intriguing idea—even if it’s not fully formed in this book. But if trying on your own integrated hat can help you achieve better relationships and outcomes in negotiations, it might be well worth the time.