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The Power of Tribal Unity

Notes on Negotiation

Written by Marty Latz, Latz Negotiation Institute

I met my wife over 20 years ago when one of my former law students introduced us. When I learned she grew up in Wisconsin, I immediately felt a connection. After all, I grew up in Minnesota and sensed a “Midwestern” thing going on. She felt it, too.

This feeling was not random. In fact, it’s an extraordinarily powerful element of persuasion in negotiations and marketing (which is just a negotiation with the consumer). And it constitutes the seventh and most recently added “Principle of Persuasion” – called “Unity” – in the latest edition of the classic Influence book by bestselling author and leading scholar Robert Cialdini.

As Cialdini notes, “Unity comes down to an automatic tendency to favor someone people consider one of them. This experience of “we”-ness with others is about shared identities – tribe-like categories that individuals use to define themselves and their groups.”

And we feel this unity, often quite powerfully even though sometimes unfairly, around race, ethnicity, nationality, family, political affiliations, religion affiliations, workplace units and locales (like the Midwest).

What’s the impact of this tribalness/unity in negotiations? Cialdini and others’ research has found that we:

· Extremely strongly favor the outcomes and welfare of our fellow tribal members over those of others;

· View the preferences and actions of fellow members as a guide to our own, building group solidarity; and

· Use these partisan tendencies to advantage our own groups, from an evolutionary perspective, which also helps ourselves.

How should we take this into account in our negotiations?

Find tribal connections with your negotiation counterparts. But tread carefully as you might inadvertently highlight that you’re on opposing teams. If so, establish a different connection and emphasize it instead.

But do this in a sincere and real way. Don’t tell a potential customer you support their preferred political candidate if you don’t. That’s dishonest, wrong and, in the long-term, counterproductive.

One more point. Unity is about more than just intellectually identifying shared interests. It’s a visceral and emotional connection that drives our feelings, which makes it psychologically far more impactful.

Historically, this has been very good and very bad. Fortunately for my wife and me, it’s been really good.

Latz’s Lesson: Actively explore and find some tribal unity with your counterparts in your negotiations.


Marty Latz is the founder of Latz Negotiation Institute, a national negotiation training and consulting company, and ExpertNegotiator, a Web-based software company that helps managers and negotiators more effectively negotiate and implement best practices based on the experts' proven research. He is also the author of Gain the Edge! Negotiating to Get What You Want (St. Martin’s Press 2004). He can be reached at 480-951-3222 or


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