Friends of the Nonverbal Communication Blog, this week we present the paper “Towards Understanding the Effect of Voice on Human-Agent Negotiation”, by Mania, J.; Miedema, F.; Browne, R.; Broekens, J. and Oertel, C. (2020), in which authors wonder how the dominance in the voice affects negotiations. 

With the development of technology, virtual agents and social robots increasingly integrated into society, it is important to know the effects of nonverbal behaviors when we are interacting.

A very interesting area in which to apply this knowledge is negotiation, where social robots are being used more and more frequently.

A negotiation is made up of several elements, ranging from negotiation tactics to the influence of the personality of the one who negotiates. One point that authors consider important to mention, is that negotiation between humans has tended to focus much more on tactics than on this last point.

In recent years, an increasing amount of research has focused on equipping virtual negotiation agents with human-comparable social skills. An example is that they are increasingly capable of adapting their negotiation tactics according to the behavior shown by the human.

Attention has also been paid to endowing the virtual agent with the ability to express social cues such as dominance. Through implementing nonverbal signals from different channels, such as body posture, facial expressions, gaze, head tilt, among others, it was shown that dominance, as a sign of power, can also affect negotiations with virtual agents.

Although many studies focused on this topic emphasize the importance of voice, it has rarely been studied explicitly. In addition, the negotiator’s perception of the other person’s voice, and how this affects the negotiation process, has not been studied either.

The main objective of this study is to explore the effects of vocal dominance on human-to-human negotiation.

Dominance can be defined as communicative behavior used to influence others and to extend one’s power.

It has been shown that hearing people are able to infer attitudes and affective states of the speaker based solely on acoustic characteristics, and to do so, moreover, with an accuracy greater than luck levels. It is known that vocal variability, volume, interruptions, pauses, speech speed, pitch and vocal relaxation are essential aspects to transmit or not vocal mastery.

In interactions between people, the pleasant and warm communication style with a high degree of courtesy is perceived as less dominant. The person exhibiting this behavior will be perceived as generous, and will expect his/her opponent to reward him/her with warmth and a good atmosphere in the negotiation. In addition, these people tend to have a behavior that facilitates opening up to the opponent and increases the probability of reaching agreements. However, him/her is also perceived as less competent and easier to exploit.

Behaviors perceived as dominant achieve greater gains in individual negotiations. A tougher and firmer communication style generally results in better economic outcomes and more beneficial counteroffers.

To examine the influence of verbal expression of dominance, concession tactics, and the moderating effect of negotiation type on negotiation outcomes and perception, an online experiment was conducted.

In it, two types of tactics were used: the individualistic and the neutral. The individualist belongs to the group of competitive negotiation and therefore more dominant; in the neutral tactic small concessions are made and a more collaborative behavior is shown. In addition, vocal dominance and concession tactics were used as factors of interest.

Each participant was asked to play a negotiation game and at the end was asked to explain his/her opinion about the simulation.

The results confirmed, to a small extent, the expectations derived from previous studies on negotiations between humans. Following the findings of Belkin et al., where dominance leads to higher profits, and the findings of Rosenthal, where dominant negotiation agents are more persuasive, manipulated vocal dominance was expected to lead to better negotiation outcomes.

However, this did not happen that way. In the study, the level of dominance was deduced from the voice alone, without additional cues such as facial expressions or gestures. As a consequence, the effects of dominance might have been milder.

Furthermore, although the individualist tactic and the neutral tactic were used, there were no significant differences in how one or the other influenced the usefulness of the agreement.

It is true that participants perceived the individualistic tactic as more unfair than the neutral one. In the first, they perceived that the opponent was destined to achieve only their own goals.

The participants perceived differences with respect to the vocal domain. The group that negotiated with the agent with high vocal dominance finished the negotiation in fewer rounds. When the low vocal dominance agent was interacted with, the subjects felt that there was more to gain and therefore negotiated in more rounds.

In future studies, authors point out that it would be interesting to include additional multimodal cues, such as gaze and facial expressions.

If you want to know more about nonverbal behavior and how it influences our personal relationships, visit our Nonverbal Communication Certificate, a 100% online program certificated by the Heritage University (Washington) with special discounts for readers of the Nonverbal Communication Blog. 


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