Conflict Management: Anger – The Good and the Bad

How to rationalize incentives and manage conflict in negotiations

By on / Conflict Resolution

Motives at the bargaining table – how conflict management can help you keep talks on track

Most negotiations are “mixed motive” in structure, requiring us both to compete to claim value and to cooperate to create value.

The ability to move back and forth between these two goals is a critical – and difficult – skill to master.


In our FREE special report from the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School – The New Conflict Management: Effective Conflict Resolution Strategies to Avoid Litigation – renowned negotiation experts uncover unconventional approaches to conflict management that can turn adversaries into partners.


How do emotions affect value creation and claiming?

Researchers Alice Isen and Peter Carnevale found that a positive mood leads to greater value creation.

Good feelings may signal that a situation is low in risk.

With little need for the vigilance associated with negative emotions, negotiators may be more willing to think creatively.

By contrast, researchers historically have found that anger is more likely to be associated with value claiming.

But anger can actually hinder this process. In a 1997 study, Keith Allred, John Mallozzi, Fusako Matsui, and Christopher Raia found more complex results regarding the effects of anger and compassion on negotiation processes and outcomes.

They compared negotiators who reported high levels of anger and low levels of compassion for each other with negotiators who had a more positive emotional regard for the other side.

The “angry” negotiators achieved fewer joint gains and had less desire to work with each other in the future than did the more positively inclined group.

Surprisingly, angry negotiators did not claim any more value for themselves than the other negotiators.

Angry negotiators appear to incur costs from their negative emotions without any benefits.

What happens when anger is not focused on an individual?

Nicholas Anderson of Stanford University and Margaret A. Neale conducted a study in which they provoked anger in one member of a pair of negotiators.

Half of the angry negotiators were sure that their counterpart had attempted to provoke their anger, while the other half were unsure.

We found that this uncertainty led to better joint outcomes for angry negotiators.

In fact, angry but uncertain negotiators created more value than emotionally neutral or slightly positively inclined negotiators who, in turn, did better than angry but certain negotiators.

Moreover, angry negotiators, in general, were able to claim a larger percentage of a resource than their counterparts were.

Subsequent analyses indicated that, while anger typically results in poor information processing, uncertainty about the source of one’s anger could motivate the angry negotiator to engage in effective information processing.

The lesson here for negotiators is that focused anger stands in the way of value creation.

But note that it’s focus, not anger, that reduces the incentive to process information.

Any emotion that triggers or is associated with uncertainty can inspire a negotiator to do the cognitive work necessary to create value.

With anger comes the additional benefit of enhanced value claiming.

Thus, an unpleasant phone conversation just before you walk into a negotiation may improve your outcomes – especially if the phone call and the negotiation are unrelated.

Related Article: Emotional Expression in Negotiation

Adapted from “Emotional Strategy” in the February 2005 issue of Negotiation by Margaret A. Neale.

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