Emotions in Negotiation
By Robert S. Adler, Benson Rosen, and Elliot M. Silverstein
This Article Summary written by: Conflict Research Consortium Staff
Citation: "Emotions in Negotiation: How to Manage Fear and Anger," Robert S. Adler, Benson Rosen, and Elliot M. Silverstein, Negotiation Journal, 14:2 (April 1998), pp. 161-179.
Negotiations often evoke a variety of emotions, especially fear and anger. Emotions can cause intense and even irrational behavior, and can cause conflicts to escalate and negotiations to break down.
Human emotions are part of our evolutionary legacy. Fear and anger helped early humans avoid or fight predators. Love and empathy helped them mate and form groups. However, the human environment has changed, and responses that served human ancestors well may be less helpful in responding to the challenges of the modern world. Understanding the evolutionary functions of human emotions can help us deal with them today.
Recent research has begun to uncover the physical bases of emotion. A section of the brain called the amygdala plays a central role in producing and controlling emotions, and in producing the physical effects associated with feeling emotion. "What is critical to understanding the role of emotion is that the amygdala engages immediately at a primitive and powerful level before the rational mind assesses a situation and decides how to act."(p. 166) The same experience may evoke different emotions in different people. However, researchers have found that humans shared the same basic repertoire of emotions.
Emotions play positive and negative roles in negotiation. On the positive side, emotions make us care for our own interests and about people. Empathy can improve understanding and facilitate communication. Both hiding emotions and making vigorous displays of emotion can be effective negotiating tactics. Legitimately expressed anger may communicate the party's sincerity and commitment. On the other hand, fear and anger usually play negative roles in negotiation. The authors observe that "although other emotions arise during the course of a negotiation, our experience strongly suggests that the two that affect negotiations most often and most dramatically are fear and anger."(p. 168)
Anger in can come from perceived rules violations. Rudeness can make a person feel vulnerable and exposed, which prompts anger. Feelings of shame may turn into anger. In negotiations, anger can occur when parties are under time constraints, unconcerned with maintaining a working relationship, or facing angry constituents. Anger may also be a response to misrepresentation, excessive demands, illegitimate exercises of another's authority, challenges to a person's own authority, or trivia. Usually, anger disrupts negotiations. "Anger does so in at least three ways: it clouds our objectivity because we lose trust in the other side; it narrows our focus from broader topics to the anger-producing behavior; and it misdirects our goals from reaching agreement to retaliating against the offender."(p. 169). Habitually angry people are also subject to health risks.
The first step in dealing with one's own anger is to become of aware of it. Identify the early signs of anger, the ways you typically express anger, and situations that trigger irrational anger. When caught early, there are many behavioral techniques for reducing anger and controlling its expression. Learn to express displeasure effectively, and to be assertive without being provocative. Beware of negotiator bias--the tendency to view oneself as cooperative and the opponent as hostile and competitive. Making concessions to minimize the opponent's losses builds trust and reduces anger. Humor can also defuse anger.
Deal with another person's anger by learning to defuse emotional buildups early. Assess the cause and purpose of their anger. Acknowledge their anger and offer an apology, even if it is just for the current "bad situation." Responding to anger with anger is rarely productive. "Sometimes a modest concession on your part immediately after an outburst by your opponent will elicit a much larger one from him or her."(p. 173) It is very important to help the other party save face, and to allow them to give up their anger without further loss of face.
Fear in negotiation can come from feeling unprepared, unable, or facing a more powerful opponent. Some people suffer from a fear of fear--fear of the physical symptoms of fear--and seek to avoid stress even at great cost. As with anger, the ways to deal with your own fear include to becoming aware of it, identifying the ways you express fear and the situations which trigger fear, and using behavioral techniques to reduce fear and control its expression. For people with a fear of fear, there are also techniques that can reduce feelings of stress. Recognize that feeling some fear is a natural response, and learn to harness the heightened awareness that such fear brings. Acting confident is a good negotiating strategy, and can even help reduce your fear. Careful preparation builds confidence and reduces fear. Finally, avoid making a quick agreement out of fear.
While an opponent's fear can motivate them to make a hasty agreement, it can also paralyze them, turn into anger, or block development of a relationship. Deal with the other side's fear by being alert for emotional buildups. Empathizing with their fears or sharing your own fears can build trust and provide reassurance.
Emotions are an unavoidable part of human life. Negotiators cannot and should not try to eliminate them. Negotiators should strive to become aware of emotions, to manage their feelings and to control their expression.