Scheinman Institute Faculty Spotlight: Alice Lee
Name: Alice Lee
Current position at Scheinman/ILR: Assistant Professor in Organizational Behavior
Education: Ph.D. in Management from Columbia Business School; B.S. in Finance from the Stern School of Business at New York University
Areas of expertise: social influence, decision making, negotiations, pragmatics, social hierarchy
Types of courses taught: negotiation and conflict resolution
Career highlights: starting as an assistant professor at Cornell
Please discuss a recent research or writing project:
I’m excited about a number of projects but a stream of work that I’m currently captivated by is the role of narratives in negotiations. Negotiations are rarely just an exchange of numbers; rather, negotiators surround their offers with explanations, accounts, and varying degrees of politeness that seek to justify, explain, and soften the potential offense of whatever terms they are proposing. Some negotiations feel more like a battle of stories than a tug-of-war over numbers.
But do these stories and the way we frame them matter? If so, how, why, and when? Along with a group of amazing collaborators, I’ve been exploring the answers to these questions in a number of projects. For instance, one project examines whether a negotiator’s success depends on the politeness with which they make their initial offer or if the words that accompany the price are largely ignored by their recipient.
Across our studies, we consistently find that negotiators who make non-polite offers (offers that eschew polite linguistic features such as hedges, indirect language, etc.) are at heightened risk of offending their negotiation partner and missing out on an opportunity to explore a mutually beneficial deal before the conversation even gets off the ground. Through these projects, we are developing an organizing framework for thinking about ways to optimally express one’s request in social exchange, including those that are high stakes as well as the more mundane, everyday interpersonal exchanges.
A memorable experience working with students:
Every moment has been a memorable one with Cornell students. This past year has been a particularly challenging one for everyone, including students who have been forced to make tremendous adjustments and sacrifices to their educational experience.
I cannot stress how impressed and inspired I have been by the level of support, engagement, and flexibility students have brought to the (virtual) classroom, turning a potentially constraining learning environment into an empowering and collaborative one.
In general, I always enjoy hearing back from students that have taken my class to share how they’re doing, or how they’ve applied some of the tools we’ve learned in class to their current lives, or even a recommendation for a new peanut butter brand (a personal favorite that I might be talking a little too much about in class). I’m looking forward to the many more memorable moments to come.
Advice you would give to students in the conflict resolution field:
One of the key takeaways that I emphasize in my negotiations course is the importance of defining success. This is the first step to any meaningful social exchange. What are you hoping to get out of this interaction?
Claim a lion’s share of the pie? Make a new friend? Resolve a conflict? As trivial as it sounds, this simple step can make all the difference, determining how you approach the exchange, the type of strategies you employ, and the point at which you agree to a deal or walk away.
I wholeheartedly believe in the power of preparation and the process of taking the time to think through your definition of success—being well-prepared and having a clear goal will equip you with the confidence and clarity to navigate any challenges that come your way.