What are the risks of displaying anger in a negotiation with the IRS and others??

An angry looking man

In negotiations, mediations, and conflict resolutions emotions can be difficult to manage. Emotional intelligence has to do with your ability to be aware of, control, and express your emotions appropriately. The commentary that follows explores how emotions and displays of anger can work both for you and against you in a negotiation and as a participant in a negotiation or other forms of conflict resolution.

When preparing for a negotiation, mediation, or conflict resolution session usually significant effort may be applied to determine the facts, the issues, the prioritization of the issues, and your interests. Similarly, you may have attempted to explore what the other party’s perceptions compared  to these same items.

However, typically little attention is paid regarding your and their emotions that may play out during the interaction.

An article from the Harvard Law School Program on Negotiation is summarized and key elements are expanded on by this author to help you when considering emotions in a negotiation with the IRS or others..


What happens when you display anger according to the article


When someone displays anger, this can actually help by intimidating the other party.

You can come off as powerful. The other party may be intimidated. As a result, they may be willing to make concessions. As a result, you may have a better settlement. Keep in mind though that when you are angry you may say, do, or imply something you did not intend because you are not necessarily in control of your emotions.


Other emotions and interpretations of emotions


The article also found via research that those appearing to be happy tended to do worse. Others may perceive happiness as an indication of satisfaction related to the process and demand more.

Keep in mind you may not be able to read other’s emotions accurately. The other party may be concealing emotions or presenting emotions simply to try and impact the process. Given that anger can assist in a negotiation, the other side may be prepared for this and simply take your anger (real or acting) as a ploy and give it no or even negative weight.


Summary of two studies


From two studies summarized in the article, when the participant perceived the display to be authentic when angry more concessions were granted by the other party. If the perception was not considered authentic, they made fewer concessions. Using anger as a strategic tool can backfire in a negotiation. It was found however, that false displays of happiness can be beneficial. The real question is how you will be perceived by the other side. One of the lessons learned was to not fake emotions and be authentic. If you maintain your own ethical standards in a negotiation, you should do better.


Practical commentary from real world examples


The following two examples relate to accountants and experts with the taxpayer interacting with IRS agents, experts, and their managers.

The first example – what not to do 

In the first example the facts, issues, emotions related to the issues, and interests were well defined by both parties entering into the negotiation. My role was to assist the taxpayer in the negotiation by using facilitative techniques between the parties. Both parties had been entrenched in their positions. An attempt was made to resolve the case in examination rather than having an unagreed case and proceeding to Appeals.

My client’s CPA and expert were ready for a fight.

My counselling to them was to try and develop a professional working relationship with the IRS participants, listen actively to what they had to say (suspend judgment and do not offer advice when listening actively) and do not become angry. Knowing the IRS participants ahead of time

it was clear that the IRS expert was going to show up angry and be negative.

Given this, I requested that no matter what we would not become angry at that point. Rather when we had an opportunity to provide our facts with the issues and explain our interests in resolving the case under examination, we could become assertive professionally. That was the game plan.

Once the IRS expert began to assert her position in a terribly angry and forceful way (though not fully correct on the facts) my client’s CPA and expert reacted very negatively.

So much for the plan. As a result, the managers of the agent and the expert stepped in and called a close to the meeting. It was agreed to disagree and let the case go to Appeals. This is an example of not controlling emotions and the negative impact on issue resolution.

The second example – abbreviated summary of a success story with multiple iterations

The second example was similar to the first on the initial set up. The client in this case was the ultimate taxpayer, the CPAs, and me acting as the facilitator between the IRS and the taxpayer and as part of their negotiation team and as a facilitator in this instance . The IRS had the agent, internal experts, and the agent’s manager. The agent was angry, belligerent, unprofessional, attacking, made false statements, and was allowed to continue. The IRS expert presented his position professionally and was open to additional information to help resolve the issue.

I had worked with the taxpayer team ahead of time so that no matter what this agent stated, no one on this team would interrupt or get angry.

The entire taxpayer team remained professional and kept their cool. That was the end of this first meeting. Afterwards the CPAs needed to blow off steam.

In the second meeting the taxpayer’s CPAs and I met with the IRS agent, the IRS experts, and the agent’s manager. This time the taxpayer’s CPAs presented the key points from their expert’s reports, and the facts in the case.

The agent interrupted, was rude, and attempted to be intimidating.

As the facilitator I had to ask her several times to please let the taxpayer continue with their commentary and there would be time for questions when they were done. When the taxpayer team was done there was an interaction between the participants and the taxpayer team remained professional though assertive. The manager of the agent and the IRS expert remained professional. The agent still had issues. The agent was asked to remain professional by her manager several times.

In the third meeting, the taxpayer’s CPAs and I met with the agent and the manager. The agent indicated where she was coming from and was ready to close the case. However,

the agent conceded that his manager was the ultimate decision maker. An offer was made by the taxpayer’s CPA and after some discussion back and forth the agent’s manager made an agreement with the taxpayer’s representative.




Anger can be a powerful tool in a negotiation. Maintaining emotional intelligence is key in a negotiation, mediation, or conflict resolution. By focusing on the end game, being assertive, and yet open minded, this can go a long way towards resolving complex issues. 

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]