Negotiation involves cold logic, cutting through all the
verbiage, careful and clear analysis of the volatile and
unpredictable environment before coolly selecting the correct
Problem is we rarely get the time when making the hundreds of
decisions we need to make each day in the negotiations that we do
in both our commercial and personal lives. Emotions play a huge
part in the actions we take and to some extent the brains higher
function has been argued is to sort out many of the choices we have
already made and make sense of them after the fact.
A study run as part of an MBA course run by Alison Wood Brooks
at Harvard suggests that the outcome of the deals we do will depend
to a large extent by the way we deal with our emotions in the cut
and thrust of conflict management. The study involved splitting
large groups of students and putting them on either side of a
conflict. The conflict makes one side the client and the other the
supplier in a long term relationship that has started to go wrong.
They need to find a solution that works for both and the outcomes
could be an amended deal, termination or an expensive legal
breakdown. The case is played literally hundreds of times and the
In half the cases however there is a significant difference in
that one side is briefed to act angrily and aggressively for the
first 10 minutes before settling down to negotiate. They are asked
to blame the other side personally for the problem, interrupt them
when they speak, raise their voice and generally be unpleasant (and
apparently they really get into it and start questioning parentage,
swearing, and banging tables, often in wonderfully creative
After 10 minutes they calm down and try to reach a
The results make interesting reading. But are not
In cases where anger had been deliberately introduced there were
significantly fewer deals done and when deals were reached they are
generally much weaker, with significant money being left on the
table. No value creation has been explored from either party.
Critically, when those deals had been reached the chances of them
going to fruition seemed less likely.
What do we learn from this?
Anger, and the potential anger or anxiety response to the other
side’s anger, is counter-productive.
Now, of course we can not stop other people from being either
genuinely or tactically angry with us, but we can control how we
react to it. If the other side does become angry seek to soothe,
apologise, even if you feel the emotion is unwarranted. Perhaps the
other thing you should consider is that many negotiations do not
complete in one session and you should manage your time and the
process to take the steam out of the emotion and take a break from
the table to let things calm down.
You should also build time into preparation to develop your own
emotional strategy, think about how you will react to the other
side and their issues and emotions, what you will do if the other
side gets angry or anxious.
I know that it is hard to do in this time pressured commercial
world, but it will be time well spent.