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<xTITLE>The Good and Bad of Anger in Negotiation!</xTITLE>

The Good and Bad of Anger in Negotiation!

by Phyllis Pollack
October 2019

Pollack Peacebuilding by Jeremy Pollack

Phyllis  Pollack

In a recent blog, I discussed my use of feigned anger to help resolve a case. This prompted me to wonder whether the use of anger in negotiations is helpful or harmful. It seems that it can be both bad and good depending on the degree of anger displayed.

In an article entitled “ It Pays to Get Angry In a Negotiation –If You Do It Right” by Mithu Storoni (May 11, 2017), Several studies have researched the use of anger in a negotiation and have found that anger can be a “… powerful negotiating tool.”   The author notes one study in The Netherlands that revealed “…that a negotiation can bring you a better deal if you become angry during the process. Changing from a happy mood to a grumpy mood was more effective than staying angry from the start to finish.” (Id.) (emphasis original.) To have the other party concede to your demands, the study found that “Rising anger is more effective than static anger” and “Rising anger is more effective than either rising or static happiness.” (Id.)

Another article entitled “A little anger in negotiation pays” by Jeff Falk (March 15, 2018) notes that during a negotiation, “high-intensity anger elicits smaller concessions than moderate-intensity anger.” (Id.) Based on their study, the researchers found that “moderate -intensity anger elicits larger concessions than no anger because moderate-intensity anger is perceived as tough.” (Id.).  However, high-intensity anger was viewed by the participants in the study as inappropriate and thus ineffective.  (Id.)

Ultimately, the researchers found that “…as anger intensity increased, initially the concessions that were made also increased, but at a certain point, as anger intensity continued to increase, the concessions decreased.” (Id.)

In a Harvard Negotiation PON Blog post, Katie Shonk in “The Art of Negotiation: Anger Management at the Bargaining Table” (August 13, 2018), notes that while anger in negotiation may help a party claim value, one must be careful.  A 2013 study by Stéphane  Côté and Ivona Hideg, and Gerben A. Van Kleef found that pretending to be angry had a different effect on the negotiation than actual anger:

Those who viewed an actor who seemed genuinely angry were less demanding than those who viewed the actor affecting a neutral demeanor. By contrast, participants felt distrustful when their apparent counterpart appeared to be faking anger and, as a result, made higher demands than did those facing a neutral counterpart. The results suggest that—unless you are a very good actor—strategic displays of anger are likely to backfire if you are interested in building trust in negotiations.  (Id. at 1.)

The use of anger can backfire. While it may provide short term gains, it may come back to haunt the user in the long term. In another study that Van Kleef conducted with Van Lu Wang and Gregory B. Northcraft, the researchers found that while the participants conceded more to the one expressing anger during a sales negotiation than they did to a party who negotiated without emotion, that participant later retaliated when given the opportunity. (Id.)

To put it into perspective, Ms. Shonk suggests thinking  about a homeowner who yells at a contractor for doing something wrong;  the contractor may well apologize but then take some shortcuts in finishing the job etc. (Id. at 2.)

The blog post also notes that the use of anger can trigger unethical behavior  in that it may cause a negotiator to behave deceptively. In another study, the researchers found that those who had been primed to feel angry were more likely to be deceptive in their negotiations with the other party. They were less empathetic, more self-interested and thus less ethical. (Id. at 2.)

So.. .the conclusion is that while a modest amount of anger may cause the other party to make more concessions, do not over due it. Moreover, be careful about the repercussions that may follow. Retribution may occur!

… 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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