Needs And Interests v Emotions

From the Blog of Phyllis G. Pollack.

       In a negotiation, which is more important: understanding the other person’s perspective (“perspective – taking” or needs and interests) or being emphatic? Interestingly, the former is more crucial to a successful negotiation than the latter.

        In a short article entitled “Inside a deal” in the May 1, 2008 edition of The Economist (in its Science and Technology section), the author discusses a study published in Psychological Science by Adam Galinsky and his colleagues at Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University in Illinois. The study looked at two main approaches used in negotiation to understand the other party: perspective-taking and empathy. As explained in the article, “perspective-taking is the cognitive power to consider the world from someone else’s viewpoint, whereas empathy is the power to connect with them emotionally.” (Id.)

       The study conducted a series of experiments using more than 150 MBA students who were novices in negotiations. The researchers divided them into pairs and had them buy-sell a petrol or gasoline station. They were told to strike a deal but that the deal could not be based solely on price because the lowest amount the seller could accept was higher than the highest amount that the buyer could pay. Thus, they had to be creative in their negotiations. The researchers found that more than 66% of the teams reached a deal.

       The experiment was then re-run but this time the pairs were split into three groups:

       “In the perspective-taking group the buyers were told to try to understand what the petrol station owner was thinking and what his interest and purpose was in selling. The empathy group was told to understand what the seller was feeling and what emotions he might be experiencing. The third group was a control group: the buyers were told simply to concentrate on their own role. Again, it was the pair with a perceptive-taking buyer who were more likely to strike a deal (76%) than the empathizers (54%) followed by the control group (39%).” (Id.)


       This study revealed that the means to gain bargaining power is by understanding the other party’s needs and interests or perspective-taking. To simply connect with the other party emotionally (i.e. empathy) is not enough; a party must also understand where the other party is coming from, or, in essence, understand his/her’s underlying needs and interests. By doing so, and as shown in this study, the parties “can produce a better overall outcome. . . ” (Id.) and thus, have a much better chance at reaching a resolution.

      . . . Just something to think about.    


Phyllis Pollack

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… MORE >

Featured Mediators

View all

Read these next


ODR Section Editorial Fall 2000

Online Dispute Resolution (ODR) presents both a major opportunity and a major challenge for the ADR field. For the first time, dispute resolution isn’t really an alternative—the courts don’t work...

By Colin Rule

The Merits of Early Neutral Evaluation

JAMS ADR Blog by Chris PooleI am a professional mediator – and a passionate devotee of its virtues. Mediation, however, can take many forms, depending on the individual needs of...

By Wayne Brazil

A Response To The Critics Of “Profiting From Injustice”

Arbitration BlogAt the end of November, Corporate Europe Observatory and the Transnational Institute published Profiting from Injustice, a report that looks at the role of law firms, arbitrators and third-party...

By Pia Eberhardt

Find a Mediator