The Negotiator: Ann Tenbrunsel

Author: Notre Dame Magazine staff

When she gets some rare time to relax — when her two toddlers are quiet and she’s caught up on her teaching and research projects — Ann Tenbrunsel likes to watch game shows on TV. Shows like Jeopardy and Greed.

“To me, Greed is fascinating,” the associate professor of management says. No surprise that Greed should catch her fancy. Tenbrunsel teaches negotiations to MBA students and so she enjoys the competitive aspect of the game show, where contestants have to balance their desire to get the most for themselves with the needs of the team. “Skilled negotiators are good at doing both,” she remarks.

Her class offers students first-hand practice in negotiating — with new technology thrown in to keep them in step with the marketplace. For one assignment, students discovered the different outcomes of negotiating by phone or through e-mail.

“Electronic communication is a great power equalizer,” she says. However, as she points out to one class, whose members generally didn’t much care for negotiating via e-mail, the technology can cause problems itself. In general, she tells them, current research has shown that e-mail makes it more difficult to get truthful information.

The assignments don’t stop with the practice. She also wants to students to analyze what happened, a process she found useful in her days as a consultant.

Tenbrunsel’s abiding research interests involve negotiating, decision-making and ethics.

What drives her is her desire to know how people arrive at decisions and how those decisions can go awry. “All of my research looks at where people might go wrong in making decisions,” she says.

Her interest in the individual — the psychology of decision-making — is balanced by what she calls “the engineer in me.” That engineer enjoys the statistical work that comes with her research projects. Overall, however, she hopes her research and teaching serve her goal of “helping employees make better decisions, for themselves and for the company.”

Tenbrunsel herself faced a tough decision when Notre Dame made an offer. “I’m a Michigan grad, I actually used to hate ND,” she says with a laugh.

“I knew I wanted to have a personal life,” she adds. The University’s family focus and the spiritual environment contributed to her “gut instinct” to accept a job at ND.

The University likes her, too. In fact, because of the high quality of her teaching and research, Tenbrunsel was granted tenure in her fourth year at Notre Dame; tenure decisions normally aren’t made until the sixth year of teaching.

“I’m passionate about what I teach,” she says. So noted.