Kathleen O’Connor

Kathleen O’Connor is an Associate Professor of Management and Organizations in the Johnson School of Management. She is a social /organizational psychologist who uses experimental methods to study how people perceive and navigate interpersonal situations, particularly those marked by conflict. Most of her research investigates how people negotiate, both in business and other settings. Her current work focuses on people’s past bargaining experiences and how these shape negotiators’ future deals. Studies show that frustrating past experiences (i.e., impasses) trigger a ‘distributive spiral’ that undermines negotiators’ ability to find high value deals the next time they negotiate. This is true even when they negotiate with a different partner on the next occasion. A second stream of work continues the theme of accounting for past experiences by investigating whether and how negotiators’ reputations matter in future interactions. Results show that negotiators pay attention to their partners’ reputations, and this information guides their choice of tactics. For instance, when a partner is known to be a tough, negotiators expect an aggressive exchange, and adopt a defensive posture, sharing little of the kind of critical information necessary to strike good deals. As a result, pairs of negotiators in which one side has a reputation for toughness fare poorly. Contrary to what some might expect, reputations for working collaboratively do not set up negotiators to be exploited. Rather, they encourage partners to reveal their hidden priorities and preferences, allowing both sides to do quite well.

Kathleen’s expertise in experimental methods, and her substantive interests in individual-level cognition, emotion, and behavior are relevant to the theme project. In work that bears directly on the project, Kathleen is conducting experiments in which she applies theories of individual cognition and behavior to understand how people make and enact decisions to develop their social capital. Results of experimental research show that how people understand themselves—either as connected to or as distinct from others—influences how they learn and understand novel social networks. People who see themselves as connected to others develop relatively richer, more elaborated perceptions of the social structure of social networks. Better perceptions should enable these people to build deeper, richer stores of social capital.





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