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Emotional Negotiation

by Phyllis Pollack

From the Blog of Phyllis G. Pollack.

Phyllis  Pollack
 Emotions, emotions, emotions. . . . It seems that we cannot get away from them when we negotiate. In the latest edition of the Harvard Negotiation Newsletter (March 2008, Vol. 11, Number 3), the lead article asks “Will your emotions get the upper hand?” The author notes that “new research suggests that these different emotions [i.e. excitement, anger, and sadness] will predispose you to act and react in very different ways during the talks that follow, regardless of the relevance of these feelings to the issues at hand.” (Id. at 1)

       Evidently, research shows that “. . . whether we realize it or not, we often base our decisions on passing moods.” (Id.) In a 2004 study conducted by Harvard Kennedy School of Government Professor Jennifer Lerner, Deborah Small of the Wharton School of Business and George Lowenstein of Carnegie Mellon University, these researchers found a direct link between feelings and decision-making:

          “Prior to having participants engage in a buying-and selling task. . . the researchers primed some participants to feel disgust by showing them a graphic, disgusting scene from the movie Trainspotting. Other participants were shown a neutral clip from a nature film. Participants primed to feel disgust seem to feel an “urge to purge” during the financial task that followed. Relative to participants in the neutral condition, disgusted sellers reduced their selling prices and disgusted “choosers” (those choosing between a commodity and money) were less willing to acquire new items. . . .” (Id. at 2).


       In a similar experiment, participant sellers who were primed to become sad by first seeing the movie The Champ, reduced their prices; however, sad choosers were willing to pay more for an item. (Id.)

       Recognizing that emotions do, indeed, affect negotiations, the article suggests five (5) ways to avoid the consequences of emotional decision-making:

      1. Take a time out: Whenever you are feeling upset or angry during a negotiation (or mediation), take a break so you can let your emotions cool down and you can, once again, become more objective.

      2. Acknowledge your feelings: “Simply being aware that your mood is likely to affect your judgment is an important step. When you label your feelings, you begin to reduce their influence.” (Id. at 3).

      3. Reappraise rather than suppress:  Do not try to suppress emotions that crop up during a negotiation (or mediation). “. . . [O]ur emotions often offer valuable information about the negotiation.” (Id.) So, listen to them and try to figure out what is behind those emotions. . . where are they coming from and why!

      4. Institute accountability:  Make yourself accountable to others or to the mediator for the decisions you make. Require of yourself that you justify your decision to an impartial audience, e.g. the mediator.

      5. Present multiple proposals:  “The timing of the presentation of options influences our susceptibility to harmful emotions. . . . Specifically, we tend to act on our emotional preferences when evaluating options one at a time, but we become more capable of engaging in reasoned analysis when evaluating options jointly.” (Id. at 4). So, whenever possible, present multiple options rather than “take it or leave it” proposals.

      So, in your next mediation –which is nothing more than a facilitated negotiation – recognize that your emotions are very much present and use the tips above to avoid the consequences of negotiating with your heart rather than your head.                                                                         

        . . . Just something to think about.


Phyllis Pollack with PGP Mediation uses a facilitative, interest-based approach. Her preferred mediation style is facilitative in the belief that the best and most durable resolutions are those achieved by the parties themselves. The parties generally know the business issues and priorities, personalities and obstacles to a successful resolution as well as their own needs better than any mediator or arbitrator. She does not impose her views or make decisions for the parties. Rather, Phyllis assists the parties in creating options that meet the needs and desires of both sides.  When appropriate, visual aids are used in preparing discussions and illustrating possible solutions. On the other hand, she is not averse to being proactive and offering a generous dose of reality, particularly when the process may have stalled due to unrealistic expectations of attorney or client, a failure to focus on needs rather than demands, or when one or more parties need to be reminded of the potential consequences of their failure to reach an agreement.

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