The Psychological Role of Negotiation in Labour Relations

Ane-Mary Ormenișan

12 minutes read

I still believe that negotiation is the most significant social interaction and the most sophisticated form of communication.

In order to calibrate the perspective from which I invite you to pay attention to this topic, I present to you some relevant and simple definitions:

Psychological contract: “a set of beliefs of an individual regarding the terms and conditions of a mutual exchange agreement between the person in question and the other party. The psychological contract arises when one of the parties considers that a promise of future reciprocity or a contribution has been made and, consequently, that an obligation has been created to provide future benefits.” (Rousseau, 1978).

Negotiation: “the act of negotiating and its outcome. ♦ (Pl.) Discussions, negotiations.”

Principle: “fundamental element, idea, basic law on which a scientific theory, a political, a legal system, a norm of conduct, etc. is based. ◊ (Pl.) The totality of the laws and the basic notions of a discipline.”

Value: “ownership of what is good, desirable and important; ◊ Value scale = hierarchy of values. ♦ (Concr.) What is important, valuable, worthy of appreciation and esteem (from a material, social, moral, etc. point of view)”

In general terms – as opposed to values – which are particularly subjective and determined internally, the principles are for the most part objective and operate according to natural laws, regardless of conditions.

Thus, not coincidentally, the fundamental principles underlying the legal labour relations are enshrined in the Labour Code (Law no. 53/2003):

• Freedom of labour (Art. 3);
• Prohibition of forced labour (Art. 4);
• Equal treatment (Art. 5);
• Protection of employees (Art. 6);
• Freedom of association (Art. 7);
• Consensualism, good faith, consultation (Art. 8);
• Freedom to work abroad (Art. 9);
• Prior information on the clauses contained in individual and collective labour contracts (Art. 17);
• Negotiation (Art.37).

We often lose sight of some of these principles, especially when we are in the process of recruiting and selecting; I am referring in particular to good faith, consensualism, consultation, prior information and negotiation.

Under the impact of inherent emotions, the employer and the candidate neglect the opportunity to discuss applied, assumed and open about the role in the organization for which the process takes place, separate from the job description, actual working conditions, protection, salary etc.

Claude Steiner set out four requirements for the correct conclusion of a contract (including a psychological one), inspired by the practice of drafting specific to the legal environment:

• Mutual consensus;
• Valid consideration (reward);
• Jurisdiction of the parties;
• Legal object (SMART).

For mutual contractual obligations to be consistent and meaningful, it is necessary for the parties to know in advance the size and amount of the contribution of each of them.

The awareness of the secure limits in the contractual relationship (expressed through good faith compliance with bilateral commitments) determines the effectiveness of all actions taken by the parties.

The concrete experience regarding the dynamics of the labour relations between employees and employers led – especially in the times of the global crisis we live – to the conclusion that the conjectural or systematic violation of the implicit components of the psychological contract induces the need for its continuous renegotiation.

From this perspective, we can admit that for the candidates who become employees, the successful completion of the recruitment, evaluation and selection processes, and subsequently the continuation of the legal employment relationships after the end of the probationary periods, means both the satisfaction of fulfilling current professional objectives and a first stage of integration into the organizations that received them.

At the same time, all this also means the tacit acceptance of the psychological contract proposed by the organization, based on which they will have new expectations and for which they will prepare to always manage other dimensions of the assumed role.

Anderson and Schalk (1998) state three main functions of the psychological contract.

The first is to reduce uncertainty: because not all aspects of the employment relationship may be covered by a formal contract, the psychological contract fills these remaining gaps in the relationship.

Second, the psychological contract shapes employees’ behaviours: like a system, the employee weighs his obligations to the organization and its obligations to him and changes the type of behaviour according to the critical results of the comparison.

The third function of the psychological contract is that it gives the employee the feeling of influence over what happens to him or her within the organization.

Because the psychological contract is based on trust, its violation by the employer can lead to strong negative emotional reactions from the employee and the deep feeling that he has been deceived (Rousseau and Schalk, 2000).

Even less significant breaches of contract have consequences: there is an increasing intention of the employee to leave the organization, followed by a lower degree of trust and job satisfaction (Rousseau and Schalk, 2000).

Robinson et partners (1994) consider that – after a breach of it – the psychological contract becomes more transactional: the employee withdraws from the relationship, paying increased attention only to economic and financial aspects.

Developing this idea, Herriot and Pemberton (1996) referred to the fact that the violation of a transactional psychological contract legitimately attracts new explicit negotiations, the adjustment of one’s own investment in the relationship or even the abandonment of the job.

In the case of relational psychological contracts, the changes are primarily at the emotional level, developing reactions of disappointment and mistrust, which ultimately lead to the transformation of contracts from relational to transactional.

Other effects of the breach of the psychological contract are reflected in the decrease of loyalty (as a component of trust) to the organization, a low job satisfaction, followed by a pronounced intention to leave the organization (Millward and Brewerton, 2000).

From the above considerations, we can explicitly conclude that – beyond the status of fundamental principle for the existence of interpersonal ties – (re)negotiation is a remarkable tool for recalibrating relationships, regardless of their nature.

In the context of the employment relationship, the negotiation – assumed as such and carried out with maximum responsibility – paves the way for improving the level of trust between the social partners and – implicitly – for the systematic preparation of the “second chance” given to continuing the relationship, under a legitimate condition of good faith.

Labour Code (Law no. 53/2003)
“Transactional analysis from an organizational perspective”, Author of article: Ane-Mary Ormenișan
“Psychological contracts in labor relations. Data regarding the psychometric qualities of the PSYCONES questionnaire on a Romanian sample”, Authors: Smaranda Boroș, Petru Lucian Curșeu
“Einstein and the art of sailing”, Authors: Anne de Graaf, Klaus Kunst, Codecs Publishing House
“Human resources management”, Author: Horia Pitariu, All Publishing House, Bucharest
“Ethics of effective leadership or principles-based leadership”, Author: Stephen Richards Covey, Allfa Publishing House, Bucharest, 2000

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Written by Ane-Mary Ormenișan


To accept. To know. To love. To learn. To receive. To return. To transform!

In the sinuous chronology of my life, these are the verbs that have always imprinted my existence. They are also the ones who have softened my oppositions, which were not few…

Today I am equal to myself in a committed way, I love people in a genuine way, I express myself freely and I bring passion into my “equations” of life, opening – always wider – “windows” to the world that never ceases to amaze me.

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