Emotion in Negotiations

Emotions. They can sometimes get the better of you. Have you ever had emotion interfere with a possible resolution or interfere in a conflict situation? If you’re like most people, the answer is almost certainly ‘yes’. Some people believe emotion is a valuable tool in facing conflict while others argue that emotion has no place in negotiations. The truth is, if you are in a negotiating situation, emotions can be your friend or foe. In addition to material interests at stake in any negotiation, people also have emotional needs. So, ignore emotions at your peril!

According to The Harvard Concept, one of the critical factors in negotiation is that you need to separate the person from the problem. But how easy is it to do that? Whether you are negotiating over custody of your child or talking to your boss about your raise, you are emotionally invested. It’s hard to separate that.

How can this play out in a high stake’s situation? Chris Voss, a former lead international kidnapping negotiator for the FBI, discusses this in his book, Never Split The Difference. He quite rightly asks: “How can you separate people from the problem when people ARE the problem?”

Emotion can frequently derail communication. When your feelings are riding high in either direction, rationality may go out the window. A good negotiator sees emotion as the means to a successful negotiation, not something that is a hindrance.

Research done by The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology supports the importance of emotion in the successful negotiation equation. The study analyzed the roles of anger and disappointment. Participants had to decide how many chips to distribute between themselves and a partner. Their partner had the option to either accept the offer or reject it. If they said no, neither of them received any chips. However, before participants made their offer, a computer told them (with a fake message) if their partner was angry or disappointed.

Traditional negotiations suggest showing disappointment is a sign of weakness that can be exploited. Your counterpart could potentially use it to make you accept a lower offer. But whether that happened depended on the relationship between the two people involved. If there was a connection, i.e., they knew each other, the disappointment provoked guilt. And it resulted in a higher offer. When anger was demonstrated, whether there was a connection or not, a higher offer was the end result.

A better and more measured approach is to look at your emotions as helpful rather than a hindrance. Daniel Goleman suggests in his book, Emotional Intelligence, you need to take into consideration the following aspects:

  • Feelings - look at your own feelings and assess: what is making you angry?
  • Thoughts - how are your feelings impacting your thinking regarding the negotiation?
  • Behavior – how does your thinking control your behavior when involved in the negotiation?

The International Negotiation Authority backs this theoretical approach by suggesting extreme behavioral patterns can be useful. Why? Because you can draw conclusions on the thinking of your counterpart and the feeling behind their approach. If you provoke extreme behavior, you get them to show their hand. But it is important to remember you must remain courteous and respectful at all times when doing this.

If you’ve seen the film Dog Day Afternoon, you saw how harnessing emotion can give you the upper hand. In the movie, things are spiraling out of control for Sonny Wortzik (Al Pacino). The would-be-bank robber has no viable getaway plan, and he’s surrounded by cops. Backed into a corner, he’s threatening to kill his hostages. The negotiation with the emotional Sergeant Eugene Moretti (Charles Durning) had descended into rants and threats.

In steps FBI Agent Sheldon (James Broderick), who lays down the law. Noting Sonny’s anger and anxiety, he comes in cool and calm. Speaking firmly, Sheldon says: “No more favors, Sonny. That’s all over… I’d like to work with you on this, not against you… I wouldn’t like to [kill you], but I will if I have to.” He’s got his counterpart’s attention.

This example demonstrates how, when emotions are aroused, thinking logically can go out the window. But by being sincere and genuine, and keeping a cool head, Agent Sheldon is able to get things back in hand.

There is a school of thought that using a well-timed threat in negotiation can help give you an advantage. (It did in this fictional instance: “I wouldn’t like to [kill you], but I will if I have to.”) But it has to be handled with care and conscience. That may be well and good in a big business deal (although even then it’s not an avenue I usually suggest - anger and threats are never the best policy) but what if you’re dealing with something personal? Negotiating with your friends, your partner, or your children? This isn’t a sensible approach to take.

However, the power of silence is a great play. In a great scene from the popular comedy series 30 Rock, grumpy nanny Cerie (Katrina Bowden) gets Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin) to double her pay for half the time. How? By not saying a word! Jack has his usual swagger at the outset. But by keeping quiet, he then loses control and caves in to her demands. He’s appalled at his own lack of negotiation skills: “I made every mistake you can in a negotiation. I spoke first, I smiled … I negotiated with myself!”

For more on how to use silence in negotiations, see my blogpost 

So how can you use your emotion to your advantage? As a negotiator, you have to decide to use emotion or to let it use you. Sometimes it can be an effective instrument of persuasion. It can win support for your position. But it’s a risky proposition. Here are some do’s and don’ts you can use, which will help you keep control.

Negotiation Emotional Do’s And Don’ts

Do self-regulate

What is self-regulation? It’s your efforts to change your thoughts, emotions, and behavior so you can improve your goals, make better plans, and stop yourself from being influenced by the plans of those around you. For example, you could be dealing with the worry over overcoming your anger in the negotiation. Or you may be struggling with ‘low power’. If you have a weak BATNA (best alternative to a negotiated agreement), you could anchor your judgments and outcomes in a similar way. I discuss this technique in more depth in my programs. So, set yourself goals for the negotiation, identify what your counterpart is trying to achieve and understand THEIR emotions. Then you can manage the situation. Be adaptable in the process.

Do practice tactical empathy

If you can label your counterparts’ fears, you can disarm them. How do you do this? By saying to them: “It looks like you’re afraid of X” you can gain control. Another tactic is to list all the negative things they could say about you…and get to them first! By expressing these concerns, it will stop your counterpart from letting that negativity fester and will take away its power.

Do get them to agree with you

Convince someone you know what they want to get a breakthrough. Get them to say: “that’s right”. They’ll feel you are on the same page. You can do this by summarizing what they are asking for. If you do this based on their feelings, you create a subconscious realization in them, which confirms you have empathy with them.

Do let them think they are in control

If you want the upper hand in the negotiation, let your counterpart believe they are in control. If you don’t force them to admit you are in the right, your counterpart will think they have the power. You can do this by asking, “How?” and “What?” They then have to use mental energy to figure out the answer.

Do mirror their words

Mirroring automatically establishes a rapport with someone. You can do this by mirroring their body language, or you can do it verbally. Repeat their words back to them. They will then feel safe and are more likely to open up to you. You can also upward inflect like a question at the end of a sentence. This can slow the conversation so you can think more clearly about your answers.

Don’t go for a yes

People get defensive if they are pushed to say yes. In the legal world, we call it ‘cornering.’ Your counterpart will feel safer saying ‘no.’ You can ask, “is now a bad time to talk?” Note that there is some debate about this. Many negotiation educators will encourage you to always frame your questions to build a series of ‘yeses’ leading to the end result you want.

Don’t underestimate the role of emotional intelligence

We touched on emotional intelligence when discussing self-regulating above. It’s one on five elements of emotional intelligence – the others are:

  • Knowing your emotions
  • Motivating yourself
  • Managing relationships
  • Recognizing and understanding the emotions of others

You can learn a lot when you are looking at what’s NOT being said. This is a vast topic, and my programs look at these nuances, but in the case of negotiating and emotion, having the ability to accurately identify emotions (in oneself and others) and understand and manage those emotions successfully (or emotional intelligence) can aid your success when negotiating. If you are emotionally intelligent, you can create safe, functional, and relieving relations within their family, friends, and work.

You aren’t responsible for other people’s faults and feelings. And when you acknowledge that you will feel less guilty. Thus, you are more self-assured, and your counterpart has more faith in your proposal.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself before going into your negotiation to have strong emotional intelligence:

  • What feelings do you want to have going into the negotiation?
  • Why do you want those feelings?
  • What can you do beforehand to ensure you feel that way?
  • What could put you off balance during negotiation?
  • If that happens, how do you recover your poise?
  • How do you want to feel when the negotiation is over?

Don’t let yourself get thrown off balance in the negotiation

Everyone has a different ‘button’ or trigger which can throw them off course in a negotiation. While you may have unlimited patience, your counterpart may find it excruciating if talks go on and on. Can you think of a negotiating experience in the past when you were particularly annoyed? What was the reason? By analyzing that, you can establish what threw you off. And you can make sure it doesn’t happen again.

If you do get thrown off course, a great way to regain your composure is to take a break. This will enable you to clear your head. You are pressing the reset button in the discussion and disrupting the dysfunction. If you can’t leave, then change the conversation focus. An example is if the nuts and bolts aren’t fitting, look at the broader process regarding your negotiation. And by asserting control, you can get back IN control.

Don’t enter into the negotiation without thinking of your feelings at the end

You may say to yourself you want to feel “relieved” or “satisfied” by the end of the negotiation. If you enter into it with that attitude, it means you are accepting not everything in the process is within your control. But, you can recognize, manage, and learn from emotion. And you can also deepen your own emotional awareness and become more attuned to the feelings of others.

Athletes don’t just prepare physically; they prepare mentally by getting “in the zone.” By thinking about the goal, and the end result, they put themselves in a stronger position to achieve their outcome. So, make sure you prepare emotionally as well as substantively for any high-stakes negotiation. It will put you in a position of strength when you enter into the negotiation itself.

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BATNA, emotions, Negotiation, Women and the Art of Negotiation

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