The reality and myth of sacred issues in negotiations

Ann E. Tenbrunsel, Kimberly A. Wade-Benzoni, Leigh P. Tost, Victoria Husted Medvec, Leigh Thompson, Max H. Bazerman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


This article investigates the role of sacred issues in a dyadic negotiation set in an environmental context. As predicted, a focus on sacred issues negatively impacts the negotiation, producing more impasses, lower joint outcomes, and more negative perceptions of one’s opponent; however, this is only true when both parties perceive that they have a strong alternative to a negotiated agreement. When negotiation parties perceive that they have weak alternatives, sacred issues did not have any effect on negotiation outcomes or opponent perceptions. These results suggest that the negative effects of sacred issues are driven in part by whether negotiators have recourse; in other words, exercising one’s principles and values may depend on whether people can afford to do so. We conclude by suggesting that the impact of certain sacred issues may be contextually dependent and that the term “pseudo-sacred” may actually be a more accurate label for certain contexts.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)263-284
Number of pages22
JournalNegotiation and Conflict Management Research
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2009


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