Faculty Spotlight - Dr. Stephen Humphrey

The Management and Organization Department's distinguished and highlighted faculty members.

Five Questions with a Faculty Member...

Dr. Stephen Humphrey, Alvin H. Clemens Professor of Management


1. Tell us about the classes you teach and the areas you research.
I primarily teach negotiation (MGMT 420 at the undergraduate level; BA 805 at the graduate level), a class I love to teach, as it provides useful skills that anyone can apply in their daily life. Negotiation is all about getting what you want, and that is only possible over the longer term by helping others get what they want – in these classes, we teach students how to figure out what they really want, to figure out what others want, and to find a place where everyone can walk away feeling happy about the outcome. This also aligns well with what I focus on within my research. On the research side, I care a lot about social relations – how people work together. Not surprisingly, most of my research therefore focuses on teams. I frequently study questions of composition (how do we make great teams?), but I am also really interested in team adaptation and resiliency (how do we make teams great?). In either case, how team members engage with others (e.g., building relationships, exchanging information, creating conflict) is critical for understanding why they do, or do not, succeed.


2. What do you enjoy most about the work that you do?
Management is an applied science, which means that we are doing work that must have value for people in the “real world” today. Everything I do has that same focus. In the classroom, that means I have to teach skills that a student can bring home and apply immediately. In my research, it means that I will engage in projects that have an applied impact – for example, I have one current project examining how multiple teams within the Army can coordinate to maximize outcomes (while avoiding casualties) and another examining how employees in a startup videogame company manage internal and external relationships. In both cases, there are real implications from what is learned, all of which can be passed back to my students immediately.


3. Considering the courses that you teach, how can students start putting what they are learning into practice?
I expect students to take the negotiation and influence skills that I provide and bring them home immediately. In class, we dedicate a lot of time to “learning by doing,” which means that we are trying to practice influencing others (getting them to say “yes”). This is all in service of students developing and utilizing these skills in their everyday lives. In your personal life, that may be as simple as convincing friends where you are going this weekend, managing dinner plans with your significant other, or deescalating conflict with your roommates. In your work life, it may be getting your boss excited about your new proposal, trading off shifts with your coworkers, or getting a customer to say “yes” to your sale. All of this requires solid negotiation skills, which these classes provide.


4. What advice do you have for students, as they wrap up the spring semester?
Oftentimes, you are the biggest limiter of getting what you want. Most people are convinced that someone is going to say “no” to their request, so they don’t ever ask. And if we know anything, it’s that most people are scared of hearing “no.” Rather than selling for $1,000, they only ask for $800. Rather than ask for $20/hour, they don’t want to offend the recruiter and so they ask for $14. Rather than apply for their dream job, they convince themselves that no one will hire them and so they stop themselves from applying. Getting told “no” is normal in life and work – ask anyone who (successfully) works in sales and they’ll tell you they hear no all the time. A great negotiator (and most people who are successful in business are great negotiators) is comfortable with hearing “no” because they also know that asking enough people, asking for the right outcomes, and asking in a persuasive manner will combine to get you the best outcomes over time.


5. What are your plans for the summer?
I plan on enjoying the outdoors with my family. As the weather starts to warm up, there are few places more relaxing than State College.


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