The Negotiator Magazine

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Part I

By Delee Fromm


Keep a poker face. Don’t get emotional. Remain cool and rational. Don’t let them get to you. Good advice for negotiating? It used to be. Most researchers and academics, until fairly recently, ignored emotion completely in negotiation and focused instead on the cognitive and rational aspects of the bargaining process.1 Formerly, emotion was considered to be an obstacle to a good negotiated outcome and a foe to an effective bargaining process. This view was encapsulated in one of the elements of principled negotiation: “separate the people from the problem.”2 Although this element allows for a constructive discussion of emotion in negotiation, as anyone who has negotiated with a very difficult counterpart can attest, the person and the feelings that the interaction creates often become the problem.

Emotion is an integral and essential part of the human experience and, thus, inherent in negotiation. Think back to a recent negotiation that you were involved in. Were you fearful that your counterpart in the negotiation would be better prepared or more skillful? Perhaps you were hopeful that the facts favored you and that your alternatives were much better than those of your counterpart. Were you anxious because your career possibilities were tied to the outcome, such as a good grade? During the negotiation, were you surprised by some new facts you didn’t know or made angry by the condescending attitude of the other negotiator? And at the end, were you elated at the outcome, or did you end up with buyer’s remorse?

These are just a few of the emotions you may have felt during a negotiation. What about the emotions of your client or the other party? What about the emotional state you came with to the negotiation? Perhaps your mood was triggered by events unrelated to the negotiation, such as the coffee you spilled on your new, expensive suit or the speeding ticket you got on the way.3 It is not surprising that we have been described as being in “perpetual emotion”4 and that we often negotiate under the influence of emotion.

Recently, scientists and academics have embraced the study of emotion in negotiation, and numerous books, studies, and articles have flowed from this interest. Their research has revealed that the former view of emotion in negotiation, which considered emotion as an enemy and calm rationality as the goal, was limited in many respects. For example, evidence from the neurosciences5 has shown that instead of being in opposition to reason, emotion is an integral part of reason and decision making. In fact, an absence of emotion has been found to have the same disruptive effect on decision making as strong negative emotion.6 And suppressing an emotion has been found to result in impaired cognitive ability7 and recall.8 Also, ignored or suppressed emotions can be messy because they tend to surface and make themselves heard, usually at the most inopportune time.9

There are other reasons not to ignore or suppress emotion. Emotion plays many important roles: it motivates us to act; it provides us with important information about ourselves, the other party, and the negotiation; it helps organize and sharpen our cognitive processes; and it enhances the process and outcome of a negotiation when used strategically. While the emotion we experience provides us with information, the emotion we display provides information to others that can be an incentive or deterrent to their behavior. In particular, “[n]egative emotions serve as a call for mental or behavioral adjustment whereas positive emotions serve as a cue to stay the course.”10 In a negotiation, the party who expresses a positive emotion may be signaling the importance of an interest or issue that may help in expanding the pie and brainstorming. In contrast, the party who expresses a negative emotion may be signaling that a reservation point or limit is close. Further, a negotiator who expresses anger may be revealing the strength of his alternatives.11

It is becoming increasingly clear that in order to become a truly skillful negotiator, it is important not only to employ cognitive strategies and skills but also to be emotionally intelligent. Negotiating using cognitive strategies and skills alone is like building a house with tools and materials to construct the outside but no tools and materials to finish the interior. The whole tool box of emotion and cognitive skills is needed to enrich, enhance, and inform the negotiation experience. There are many advantages to being an emotionally intelligent negotiator. For example, an emotionally intelligent negotiator is able to gather more and richer information about the other side’s underlying interests and reservation points; can more accurately evaluate risk, which leads to better decision making; can better perceive opportunities to use negotiation strategies and tactics that involve emotions; and can more successfully induce desired emotions in negotiation opponents.12

This chapter discusses various techniques and tools related to becoming a more emotionally intelligent negotiator. To a large extent, these discussions follow the broad dimensions of emotional intelligence put forward by Peter Salovey and John Mayer13: emotional awareness and perception (in self and others), regulation of emotion, and the use of emotion in creative and adaptive ways.

Emotional awareness—being aware of our own feelings as well as those of others—is key to becoming an emotionally intelligent negotiator, but it is elusive in many ways. Understanding the language of emotion and tuning into our body are just two methods, discussed below, that enhance emotional awareness and perception. Research shows that we are very accurate in our reading of the non-verbal emotional signals of others. And it is through such valuable non-verbal information that others reveal their interests, issues, limits, and alternatives, even when they are unaware that they are doing so. Although the focus of this chapter is on your emotions and those of the other side in a negotiation, much of the discussion also applies to the client you represent—particularly that found in the section “Perception of Emotions in Others” below.

It is important to deal with strong negative emotions as they arise because negotiations tend to foster such emotions. While in their grip, clear thinking is difficult. We may say and do things that we later regret. We may even give away information that we would rather keep concealed. The techniques and tools presented for dealing with strong negative emotions help keep negotiations on track in the midst of tumultuous emotional upheaval and enhance a positive environment for achieving maximum joint gains. Part of regulating strong negative emotions is learning to anticipate them by understanding and identifying the trigger points that induce them.

Becoming an emotionally intelligent negotiator involves not only being aware of and regulating emotions, but also using emotions in creative and adaptive ways. As such, we examine current research on the effect of positive and negative emotions and how to use such emotions strategically in negotiations. The section “Putting It All Together” below provides practical information on how to use emotion in a negotiation in a learned and principled way to achieve a desired outcome.

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November 2007