Tag: negotiation

Which “Star Wars” character would you bring to a car dealership?


Was it right for Han to shoot first in the cantina scene of “Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope”?

Did it make sense for Darth Vader to keep changing the terms of his deal with Lando in “The Empire Strikes Back”?

Such were the pressing questions Hillary Anger Elfenbein fielded during a 2022 Dragon Con virtual panel called “Conflict Experts Fight About Star Wars.”


“Let me emphasize that all of this is actually true, in case you think I’m joking,” said Elfenbein, John K. Wallace, Jr. and Ellen A. Wallace Distinguished Professor and professor of organizational behavior at Olin Business School. Her areas of expertise are negotiation, leadership and women in leadership.

Elfenbein was on the Dragon Con panel because she’s one of the authors who contributed to the new book Star Wars and Conflict Resolution: There Are Alternatives to Fighting (December 2022, DRI Press, $15). She and William Bottom wrote the chapter “This Deal’s Getting Worse All the Time: Negotiation Satisfaction Matters.”

Bottom is associate dean and academic director for Undergraduate Programs and the Howard and Marilyn Wood Distinguished Professor at Olin.

‘The Empire Strikes Back’

In the chapter, “we use the storyline of ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ to illustrate rigorous academic principles based on our own research,” Elfenbein says.

They describe the deal that Lando reached with Darth Vader, how it fell apart and what Lando’s experience says about negotiator satisfaction and deal implementation in and outside the “Star Wars”universe.

“The Empire Strikes Back” doesn’t reveal the exact bargaining process and terms Lando and Darth Vader reach. But “we can infer that Vader deploys some of his typical high-pressure tactics to get what he wants,” and, Elfenbein and Bottom write, “likely promises to ignore the illegal gas mining operation on Cloud City if Lando welcomes Han and Leia so that Vader can use them as bait to attract Luke Skywalker.”

The mine is too small for the Empire to care about, but its operation outside the law makes Lando vulnerable to government scrutiny. Vader uses that fact to pressure Lando to agree.

Lying from the outset

“Vader appears to have been lying to Lando from the outset. He claims Han and Leia will go free once Luke arrives, but in truth has already contracted with the bounty hunter to deliver Lando’s old frenemy to Jabba the Hutt.”

The change marks the transition to a second phase in dealing with Lando. “Once Han and Leia arrive, Vader reneges on his word again, creating a third phase of the deal terms in which he insists Leia and Chewbacca remain under Lando’s supervision in Cloud City, never to leave.”

Integrity matters—in the Star Wars universe and in this one. Vader’s willingness to cut a deal and then renege on it over and over again eventually proved to be his undoing.

William Bottom

That change pushes Lando to the brink. Han is frozen in carbonite and carried away, and Vader demands that Lando take Leia and Chewbacca to his Imperial ship. “With this last change marking a fourth phase of the deal, Lando can no longer abide by it. He battles stormtroopers, escapes with Leia and Chewbacca on the Millennium Falcon, and joins up with the rebellion against the Empire.”

Vader’s continued push to win the most favorable terms for himself backfires and contributes to his demise.

Feelings of satisfaction

Among the lessons, according to the authors: Most of us negotiate with something less than overwhelming leverage. We need to build relationships and foster a mutually beneficial exchange to undertake complicated projects. We rely on the assurance that our counterparts will hold up their end of the bargain and accommodate necessary adjustments.

“The mindset and orientation to develop goodwill may flow from the Force but certainly not from the dark side,” they write. We can learn effective listening and rapport-building. Turn-taking and reciprocity can further open communication to reveal opportunities for mutual gain. “In a virtuous cycle, this builds momentum and confidence in the counterpart’s integrity while establishing a foundation for crafting value-creating deal terms. Such deals rely on negotiators’ feelings of satisfaction—which is a lesson Darth Vader learned the hard way.”

“Integrity matters—in the Star Wars universe and in this one,” Bottom said. “Vader’s willingness to cut a deal and then renege on it over and over again eventually proved to be his undoing. Those who can’t control the Force can build a reputation for integrity and trustworthiness that can be its own kind of force.”

Jedi mind tricks

Back to those questions.

Which “Star Wars” character would you bring to a car dealership?

Elfenbein: “Yoda. He has Jedi mind tricks while also being easy to underestimate.”

Was it right for Han to shoot first in the cantina scene of “Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope”?

“Yes. Based on economic game theory, you are supposed to compete in a one-shot game.”

Did it make sense for Darth Vader to keep changing the terms of his deal with Lando in “The Empire Strikes Back”?

“As Bill and I wrote, yes, the first time. And maybe the second. But definitely not the third.”

“There’s this myth out there that women aren’t as good negotiators as men,” says Hillary Anger Elfenbein. “And I want to try to shatter that myth.”

Elfenbein, The John and Ellen Wallace Distinguished Professor of Organizational Behavior, shatters that myth on a regular basis in the Olin courses she teaches on negotiation. On October 18, she will share highlights from her research on gender differences in negotiation and how women can confidently approach the process in a free webinar, “Women at the Negotiation Table,” sponsored by Olin’s Executive MBA program.

“There are differences in the way women approach negotiations versus men and there are often differences in outcomes, but these differences can be overcome, especially with a few very simple changes in frame of reference that are easy to accomplish without necessarily changing one’s overall personality,” explains Elfenbein.

Elfenbein also advocates for a broader definition of negotiation. It’s much more than haggling over the price of a new car or a promotion, or a new job’s salary. While those are extremely important negotiations, Elfenbein says it’s helpful to recognize that we are actually negotiating all the time, and can improve our techniques on a daily basis.

“The most accepted scholarly definition of negotiation is that it’s a mutual decision-making process to allocate scarce resources. And if you take that definition seriously enough, we’re negotiating constantly. This definition is as true for who does the dishes and who stays late on the weekends. Who has to come in to the office, what roles are you going to take, how are you dividing labor in your team. All of those things are a negotiation, just as much as the price of a car.”

Register today for “Women at the Negotiation Table” on Oct. 18

Research shows that men and women may end up with similar outcomes in a negotiation, but they often get there in different ways. In very broad generalities, women are more apt to find trade-offs and compatibilities in the process, while men tend to engage in more assertive haggling. Elfenbein says these kinds of stereotypes can create psychological obstacles for women.

“If you survey people after a negotiation, and ask people to self-report their scores, women will, by and large, self-report that they did worse. That feeling matters, because even though you might say, ‘It’s all in your head,’ well, a lot of things are in our heads, and that makes them real, that makes them consequential. If you go through life feeling like you’re not good at something, you’re going to avoid doing it. And if you don’t enter a negotiation, then you’re not going to be able to advocate for your needs.”

In her Olin courses and the upcoming webinar, Elfenbein shares ways for women to shift their frame of reference and attitude when approaching negotiation. It takes practice, but they can be changed and make a difference in how to negotiate with confidence and success.

“The kinds of techniques that you learn in the negotiations workshop are as applicable outside of work as they are at work. I like to think that the tools that we that we teach here are useful and adaptable to negotiations of all types.”

Hillary Anger Elfenbein has been a business school professor at the Olin School of Washington University in St. Louis since 2008. She holds a PhD in Organizational Behavior, a Master’s degree in Statistics, and undergraduate degrees in Physics and Sanskrit, all from Harvard University.

Examples of Dr. Elfenbein’s research on negotiation:

Elfenbein, H. A., Curhan, J. R., Eisenkraft, N., Shirako, A., & Baccaro, L. (2008). Are some negotiators better than others? Individual differences in bargaining outcomes. Journal of Research in Personality, 42, 1463–1475.

Curhan, J. R., Elfenbein, H. A., & Kilduff, G. J. (2009). Getting off on the right foot: Subjective value versus economic value in predicting longitudinal job outcomes from job offer negotiations. Journal of Applied Psychology, 94, 524-534.

Curhan, J. R., Elfenbein, H. A., & Eisenkraft, N. (2010). The objective value of subjective value: A multi-round negotiation study.  Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 40, 690-709.

The first weekend in April, a group of four Olin students: Kevin Pung, David Gumins, Jon Goldstein, and Andrew Glantz, along with negotiations professor and PhD candidate Elizabeth Luckman, traveled to Waco, Texas for a negotiations competition. Andrew wrote this post for the blog:

The Baylor Business Negotiations Competition consisted of three rounds (single-elimination) with teams of two people each (12 teams overall). Kevin and I were on a team, and David and Jon were on another team.

The first round was 35-minutes: our role was a pharmaceuticals company hiring two consultants and we had to negotiate a contract with them. Both of our teams made it to the next round (semi-finals).

The semi-final round was also 35 minutes: our role was the in-store sales strategy team at a Walmart-esque company and we had to negotiate a marketing strategy/budget with the online division. Only two teams with the highest scores out of the six semi-finalists made it to finals. Kevin and I ranked 1st after that round; David and Jon ranked 5th.

Baylor 2Kevin and I then competed in finals in an auditorium for a 45-minute negotiation: our role was a development company negotiating a maintenance contract with a large company. It was a close negotiation and we ended up with a beneficial deal, but lost in a 2-1 decision with the judges. Kevin and I each won $150 for placing 2nd in the competition.

This was the first intercollegiate national competition of this nature. WashU is looking to possibly host one in the future in addition to other colleges. It was terrific to see the two teams place 2nd and 5th from WashU! I look forward to seeing WashU continue this in the future.

Guest Blogger: Andrew Glantz BSBA ’17