Want to know how emotions impact results in negotiations?

Various blue face emoji's demonstrating emotions

Understanding emotions in a negotiation, mediation, or some form of alternative dispute resolution is critical. Emotions are often misunderstood during conflicts and when addressing conflict resolution and conflict management. Exceptional leaders understand this and are continual learners in this area. The following is summary commentary from two studies as presented from the Program on Negotiation as offered by the Harvard Law School with additional insights.


Reading others’ emotions


Being able to determine the emotions of the other party is critical in any negotiation. If you can correctly assess their emotions this will have a direct impact on how you should appropriately interact with the other party for optimal results.


First study


One of the studies entitled “Trust Your Gut or Think Carefully? Examining Whether and Intuitive Versus a Systematic, Mode of Thought Produces Greater Empathetic Accuracy by Christine Ma-Kellams and Jennifer Lerner found that empathy is important. However, the authors conducted four studies examining the relations between intuitive vs. systematic and empathetic approaches. Two of the studies focused on executive level professionals as participants. The authors found that those “people who tend to rely on intuitive thinking also tend to exhibit lower empathetic accuracy.” The authors concluded that “empathetic accuracy arises more from systematic thought than gut intuition.” This implies that engaging with a systematic approach provides better results. This runs contrary to conventional wisdom that implies that your gut feeling provides better results.


Second study


From a study by Naomi Rothman and Gregory Northcraft entitled Unlocking integrative potential: Expressed emotional ambivalence and negotiation outcomes, the authors found that negotiators that express emotions are critical in driving behaviors. For those that were more emotionally ambivalent this was seen as an invitation to be dominated. From the analysis of three studies in this article it was found that those that were analytical and had a passion for their concerns did much better in the negotiation. “Ambivalence signals submissiveness.” 


What can we learn from these studies?


In negotiations it is possible to feel a host of emotions. Being honest with yourself and recognizing the emotions of the other party go a long way towards having a successful negotiation. Conflicting emotions during a negotiation are common. Conflicting emotions during a multi-issue negotiation can actually present an opportunity for a better outcome and a more cooperative tone. Think about this in terms of developing a relationship with the other person where you come across as open, considerate, honest, and genuinely interested in working towards a result where you can find ways to reach an agreement that works for both of you.

As a participant in a negotiation, do your homework regarding the other party. You can improve your accuracy of thinking more deeply about the other person and why they may be feeling the way they do. The more you understand about the other person the more you will be able to improve your empathetic accuracy. This will help you in your relationship with that person and with your ability to negotiate with the other party. A more methodical approach to understanding the other person and trying to develop an authentic connecting relationship will help you in the negotiation process.


Relationships matter


Before going into a negotiation learn all you can about the other party. Search social media, network with others, and see if you can discover common interests. Knowing more about the other party in these contexts can be valuable in terms of finding ways to connect with the other party.

Consider ways to connect with the other party during breaks. Here are some questions that you may want to consider when you have a chance to talk to the other party when not focused on the negotiation.

  • What have you been thinking about lately?
  • Ask questions about children, spouse, pets, vacations, and search for areas where you can relate.
  • Engage in small talk about their interest in coffee, tea, soft drinks, or something similar.
  • Explore their value system related to their view on ethics such as the ends justify the means, following the rules, the golden rule, or other elements related to values. Often understanding their values and how yours may relate can help with connecting with the other party.

Focus on being interested in them rather than being interesting. You want to be there to learn and understand. You really want to listen to the other party and to let them talk. Let them share something they want to share. Affirm with them what they bring up.


Really listen to the other party


Often when the other party is speaking a natural tendency is to focus on how you intend to respond to what was just said. Instead of following this initial thought, consider listening actively and allowing the other party to tell you more. How can you do that. I would like to offer a simple acronym entitled PASSED. PASSED stands for

Paraphrase – using your own words to express what you heard

Ask open ended questions – not yes-no questions but questions going deeper. Think about what you want to ask next while the person is speaking, not how you will respond.

Summarize – a brief statement about the main points

Suspend judgment – withhold your judgment – this is hard and takes practice

Empathize – put yourself in their shoes – sense their emotions and what they are feeling

Do not offer advice – there is a natural tendency to offer advice – let the other party talk at least 10 minutes before offering your own thoughts.

When someone has been listened to, they are far more apt to listen to you.


Overall commentary


Emotions really matter in a negotiation, mediation, or some form of alternative dispute resolution. Coming with an attitude to help rather than an attitude to be confrontational makes a big difference. Analytical cognitive thinking performs better than gut feelings in negotiations. Being ambivalent is a detriment to a successful negotiation. Be passionate about your concerns professionally. Relationships matter. Taking the time to research all you can about the other party can help as you look for ways to connect authentically with the other party. Listening actively allows you to learn more. Learning more about the feelings, emotion, and interests of the other party can help you overcome any differences and help you develop a better result.

About the author

Mike Gregory is a professional speaker, an author, and a mediator. You may contact Mike directly at mg@mikegreg.com and at (651) 633-5311. Mike has written 12 books (and co-authored two others) including his latest book, The Collaboration Effect: Overcoming Your Conflicts, and The Servant Manager, Business Valuations and the IRS, and Peaceful Resolutions that you may find helpful. [Michael Gregory, ASA, CVA, MBA, Qualified Mediator with the Minnesota Supreme Court]