A little give and take part III

The pros and cons of the overgenerous, givers, barterers and takers when it comes to playing the cooperation game and why the most effective style doesn’t always shine in aviation

“The cooperative behavior of people depends on the type and characteristics of their personality. In the last two articles I introduced the concept of the four different groups - the ‘over-generous’, the ‘giver’, the ‘barterer’ and the ‘taker’ and the way they play (strategic) games. A general rule in the way they cooperate is the following: The ‘over-generous’ cooperates in every round of play, irrespective of the response of the other player. The ‘giver’ cooperates in the first round and then plays exactly the same way, as the other player – the typical tit-for-tat strategy. The ‘barterer’ does not cooperate in the first round, but waits, if the other player offers cooperation. He then plays exactly the same way as the other player – like in tit-for-tat, but the first move is different. Finally, the ‘taker’ never cooperates. His behavior is often referred to as a hawkish attitude. To put it differently, the ‘over-generous’ orientates any cooperation on the interest of the other party. The ‘giver’ looks more on the interest of the other party, but he keeps a close eye on his/her self-interest. ‘Barterer’ and ‘taker’ are mostly or entirely motivated by self-interest. In order to manage in-house teams efficiently it is paramount to have an idea of the composition of purchasing and sales teams. How are they put together? If you are in negotiations with customers or suppliers, it will be very beneficial to find out how the other party ticks and what their cooperative attitude might be. Research found that the attitude of ‘givers’ brings three advantages.

  1. Productivity increases due to a cooperative in-house climate
  2. Personal career prospects are enhanced
  3. Staff satisfaction is high

Now the most important question comes up. Why are takers so frequently found in corporations, while givers are so beneficial to an organisation? The answer is complex, but can be summarised as follows: If non-zero-sum games are played only once, non-cooperative behavior is a successful strategy, because there is no more room for retaliation. Only if more rounds of the game are played, cooperation makes sense.
To translate this into our reality. If for example negotiation participants expect that they will meet only once, the temptation is high to behave or negotiate in an uncooperative way doing the powerplay game that many of us are familiar with. But if people expect to build long-lasting relationships this strategy will backfire. As we all know the saying: “In aviation you meet more than once!”. There are many companies out there where purchasing managers and sales people are in their jobs for many years even decades. They have cultivated an approach that is focused on long lasting relationships. And they know that trust grows slowly. This insight might be the reason why some companies rotate their negotiators regularly to avoid this mutual trust building, as these corporations believe in the powerplay game. If this is the right approach in the current situation, is at least questionable. The same rationale can be applied in-house. If people are skeptical about the future of the company they work with, the tendency is high that they start acting uncooperatively. The reason again is that there will be not enough time for the other colleagues to answer in kind. If people think of leaving or if people fear that companies closedown, their moral incentive to cooperate evaporates. If this sounds arrogant or overbearing to you, I want to line out that our behaviour often is set automatically and unconsciously. It is a reflex to circumstances that makes us act as we do. To sum it up. In the current situation of maximum uncertainty managers must be alert to the fact that staff will become less cooperative in their in-house activities. As people fear lay-offs cooperation makes less sense to them. Survival is key. But this attitude runs contrary to the promises of corporations that working together is key at the moment.”

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