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Are you a Nervous Negotiator?

by Phyllis Pollack
October 2013

PGP Mediation Blog by Phyllis G. Pollack

Phyllis  Pollack
Do you have sweaty palms and a churning stomach whenever you have to negotiate something? Or, are you as cool as a cucumber during such events. A recent study indicates that your nervousness or lack of it affects the outcome of your negotiations.

A blog by Katie Shonk posted on October 1, 2013 on the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School's website discusses a study (first issued as a press release on August 26, 2013 by the Association for Psychological Science on its web site.) by Ashley D. Brown and Jared R. Curhan of the Sloan School of Management at MIT which indicated that "...sweaty palms and a racing heart may actually help some people in getting a good deal." (Id.)

To reach this conclusion, Brown and Curhan conducted two experiments. In the first experiment, they "assessed" participants' attitudes toward negotiation. (Id.). Then, several weeks later, they had these same "...participants walk on a treadmill while negotiating over the price of a used car. Some participants walked quickly to increase their heart rates, while others walked at a slower pace." (Id.)

Those participants with negative attitudes, who had walked quickly to increase their heart rates, told the researchers that they were less satisfied with the results of their negotiations than those participants with negative attitudes who had walked at the slower pace.

In contrast, those participants with positive attitudes towards negotiations expressed greater satisfaction with the deal they had made while walking quickly on the treadmill.

In the second experiment conducted by Brown and Curhan, the participants negotiated employment compensation packages. The results from this experiments indicated, "... that physiological arousal may even enhance the negotiating abilities of those with positive attitudes toward negotiation." (Id.)

In sum,

Brown and Curhan found that participants who look forward to negotiating and who walked while doing so achieved higher economic outcomes than those who sat during the negotiation session. In contrast, participants who dread negotiating and who walked during the negotiation performed worse.

Ultimately, the new research suggests that the effects of physiological arousal are driven by subjective interpretation. People who can't stand negotiating seem to interpret arousal as a negative sign of nervousness, and physiological arousal therefore has a detrimental effect on their performance. But those who relish a chance to negotiate seem to interpret arousal as a positive sign of excitement, making them feel "revved up," and the arousal boosts their performance. (Id.)

So... sweaty palms and a churning stomach may be a good thing if you love to negotiate... or a bad thing if you hate to negotiate.

... 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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