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Inside CSULB
Vol 58 No. 2 : February, 2006
Vol 58 No. 2 : February, 2006
Wright Way to Bargain

“It’s a bargain!” may be the war cry of the shopper but there’s more to striking a deal than a taste for shopping mall food courts.

Wayne Wright, who joined CSULB’s Philosophy Department in 2005, is interested in how we make – and how we ought to make – decisions when circumstances are less than perfect.

“Look at bargaining,” said Wright, who joined the university after two years as a visiting lecturer at St. Louis’ Washington University. “We negotiate every day. We negotiate with our families, friends and employers about much more than money. We negotiate about work, fun, and time. There are any number of topics of negotiation that have little to do with dollars and cents.”

Wright focuses on a body of empirical research that reveals that real negotiations often deviate from the stereotyped model of a hustling seller saying anything to move the product. “There are bargainers who are aggressive, difficult, and perhaps unprincipled,” he said. “But there also are other parties who are, to varying degrees, open and truthful in their dealings. It turns out that, in a number of interesting settings, being open and truthful yields better results than adversarial behavior, even when matched against parties who are not fully cooperative. Of course, it’s foolish to be open and honest when the other party seeks to profit at your expense.”

Trust is essential to reaping the full benefits of negotiation. “It’s widely recognized that people sometimes outperform the dictates of normative models of decision making. It’s also pretty easy to see that we sometimes fare rather poorly in our decisions; bad decisions produce a lot of the misery and frustration that are so evident in the world,” he said. “When it comes to negotiation, trust is what allows bargainers to increase the potential benefits for both sides. A major issue is determining when it’s appropriate to trust, as well as how to maintain trust once it’s been established,” he said. “The other party is often free to go back on the deal or to take advantage of a cooperator. Many people who are inclined to trust frequently find themselves surrounded by parties who will not reciprocate in kind. Those cooperators would presumably prefer to find like-minded people and interact with them, but that’s not an easy thing to do when you’re always on your guard against possible exploitation. Of considerable interest for me right now is exploring ways that a network of cooperators can develop amidst a sea of non-cooperators, taking into account the real-world limitations on human reasoning and the incomplete or cloudy information we often have about each other’s past behavior and current interests.”

The most important first step to negotiation is defining issues. What is essential? What kind of trade-offs can be made? Is there balance between salary and benefits? What alternatives do you have if negotiations fail? What do you value and why do you value it? One key is the reservation point.

Wayne Wright

“The negotiation analysis literature leaves no doubt that negotiating well demands establishing a reservation point ahead of time. A clear reservation point says that there is a certain point beyond which you will not go,” he said. “What is the minimum package the negotiator will accept? Once the template is fixed in the negotiator’s mind about what are the issues, the successful negotiator should sit down with the other party and make sure they agree about the issues that are to be bargained over. Then it becomes a matter of how forthcoming one wishes to be. If you commit yourself too early, you run the risk of being exploited. If you hold back too much, you discourage the other party from being as forthcoming as they might be. Most real-world situations are messy and not easily resolved or described in terms of precise rules, but it’s important to work to figure out how mutual cooperation can be effectively encouraged and how to help a would-be cooperator better recognize when their risk for being taken advantage of is high. Hopefully, some of my research can contribute to that.”

Wright earned his B.A. from Hoftsra University in 1993, his M.A. from the University of Florida in 1996 and his Ph.D. from Temple University in 1999. He spent four years in the computer software industry after earning his doctorate.

In addition to his research on decision-making, Wright works on topics related to the scientific studies of consciousness, vision, and color. His goal in that work is to clear away some of the basic confusions that have plagued philosophical research so that philosophers and scientists may more fruitfully discuss issues of common interest.

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