Negotiators engage in the process of information exchange in order to develop shared understandings of the features of conflict (Brodt & Dietz, 1999). In exchanging information through communication, they provide indications as to how they frame this information (Carroll & Payne, 1991; Donnellon & Gray, 1989). Conflict frames can provide insights into the occurrence of numerous features of negotiation-related cognition and behaviour (Putnam & Holmer, 1992). Additionally, an understanding of the way negotiators frame conflict, and not just behave, enables researchers to identify ways in which negotiators can actively reframe information to reach more optimal outcomes. Although behaviours and cognitions are difficult to modify once individuals are engaged in an interaction (Egan, 1990), the ability to reflect on the way that perceptions may influence behaviour increases the possibilities for behavioural change.
Through the interactive process of information exchange, features of conflict are framed and reframed in a dynamic manner (Follett, 1942; Putnam & Holmer, 1992). Through an appreciation of this dynamic process of framing and reframing, greater understandings could emerge about the way that outcomes are reached (Putnam & Holmer, 1992). With research to date typically ignoring the dynamic nature of conflict framing, the current research examined shifts in frame use across the negotiation process. The current research also investigated the relationship between differential shifts in the use of frames and the types of outcomes attained.
To achieve these objectives, the current study measured frames as expressed through negotiator communication. This measure involved coding negotiator communication according to the set of conflict frames derived predominantly through a review of the relevant literature. To best detect shifts in the use of frames throughout the negotiation, initial frames were manipulated by varying social motivation. To assess effectively changes in the use of frames across the negotiation, the negotiation period was segmented into stages (Holmes, 1992). Frame use in each of these stages was then analysed and compared.