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Humour and teamwork work as strategic tools in business negotiations


Taina Vuorela’s (Phil. Lic.) will defend here dissertation entitled "Approaches to a Business Negotiation Case Study: Teamwork, Humour and Teaching” at the Helsinki School of Economics (Main Building, Great Hall) on December 7 at 12.00 noon. The field of the study is international business communication. Professor (emeritus) Kari Sajavaara, PhD, (Jyväskylä University) will act as opponent and Professor Mirjaliisa Charles, PhD, (Helsinki School of Economics) as custodian.

The starting point for Vuorela’s study, which is in the research area of applied linguistics, was the development of negotiation skills training. The study used recorded business negotiations from an international Finnish company group as research data. The sales activity of a sales team was analysed with discourse analysis in a company-internal strategy meeting and a client negotiation.

According to the study, both humour and teamwork are used as strategic interactional tools when the sales team, in a client negotiation, tried to reach the goals it had set for itself in a strategy meeting. There is an ample amount of humour in both the client negotiation and the company-internal meeting. Most commonly, the sales team jokes through ironic exaggeration and comic incongruity. The topics of humour include selling in general and the transaction at hand. Also, the Finns’ ‘exotic’ customs and practices are the subject of humour while the team negotiates with a Central-European buying team.

Somewhat different humour is apparent when the client negotiation is compared with the company-internal negotiation. For example, the irony used is more careful when interacting with the potential client. Humour is linked with power in negotiations: power has an effect on who has the right to initiate and end a joke. Also, the humour used by powerful negotiators is laughed at most often. With humour, difficult items for negotiation can be taken up. Humour also releases stress after difficult topics and thus helps to improve the atmosphere of the negotiation. At times, the buying team or the selling team resort to humour that the other side does not find appropriate: if a team tries to reach a goal that is not agreeable to both teams, the other side does not join in the humour. Teamwork is also used strategically to reach goals in a negotiation. The sales team takes turns in leading the discussion, but also reacts together to the buying team’s questions if necessary. Thus, teamwork prevents fatigue and tends to prevent mistakes in the negotiation.

In order to develop negotiation skills training, a survey of commonly used textbooks in the field was carried out. Although the materials used in teaching negotiation skills have evolved since the 1980s, the exercises in the textbooks studied tended to be rather superficial in nature. Teamwork and humour are hardly treated in the material at all. The survey provides support for integrated teaching methods where both communicative and strategic business know-how are combined.

Eeva Lehtinen | alfa
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