How Mood Affects Negotiators

By on / Conflict Resolution

What are social psychologists learning about the connections among emotions, negotiation, and decision making? Negotiation contributor Jennifer S. Lerner of Harvard Kennedy School and her colleagues have identified two critical themes. First, they have studied the carryover of emotion from one episode, such as a car accident, to an unrelated situation, such as a workplace negotiation.

Second, these researchers are studying the influence of specific emotions such as happiness, sadness, and anger on decision-making.

In related work, Robert Lount and Keith J. Murnighan of the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University considered the role of specific emotions in a classic trust game. In this game, which is typically played for real money, player 1, the ‘trustor,’ must decide how much of $10 to give to player 2, the recipient. Player 2 receives three times the amount given by player 1; player 2 then must decide how much (if any) of this expanded total to give to player 1. The efficient solution is for player 1 to give the full $10 to player 2, who can then divide the $30 between them.

In their version, before beginning the game, Lount and Murnighan asked some trustors to write about an experience that made them happy and asked other trustors to write about an experience that made them sad. They then played the trust game. Among “happy” trustors, 53% gave recipients the full $10; only 21% of sad trustors did the same. On average, happy trustors gave away $6.76 and sad trustors gave away $5.58.

It appears that a sad mood decreases trust and negatively influences negotiated outcomes. As this research shows, you would do well to avoid carrying emotional baggage into your most important negotiations.

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