Negotiation Research: A Downside of Anger

Unethical negotiating behavior at the bargaining table

By on / Conflict Resolution

We know that anger leads negotiators to make riskier choices and blame others when things go wrong. In a new study, researchers Jeremy A. Yip and Maurice E. Schweitzer find that anger also leads us to engage in greater deception in negotiation—even when it’s not our counterpart who angered us.

In one of the study’s experiments, participants were asked to write an essay about an inspirational moment from their lives. Some participants then received handwritten feedback from another participant that insulted the essay—for example, by calling it “stupid” or “ordinary.” Other participants simply received a factual summary of their essay as feedback. Not surprisingly, those in the former condition felt much angrier than those in the latter condition after reading their feedback.

Next, the participants were randomly paired with another participant, one who had not evaluated their essay, for an online game. In the game, the participants were tasked with anonymously allocating money between themselves and their partner. Those who had been primed to feel angry were more likely to deceptively exaggerate the generosity of their offer to their counterpart than were those who were primed to feel neutral. The researchers also found that anger—but not another negative emotion, sadness—prompted less-ethical behavior but only when participants had financial incentives to behave deceptively. Anger reduced participants’ empathy, making them more self-interested and thus more open to behaving deceptively.

Interestingly, the anger that participants felt in these studies was unrelated to their counterparts or other aspects of the decisions they faced. Anger triggered by one’s counterpart could generate even less ethical behavior, Yip and Schweitzer speculate. The results suggest the value of taking a break to cool down when you feel angry during a negotiation and encouraging counterparts to do the same, lest someone engage in behavior they later regret.

Resource: “Mad and Misleading: Incidental Anger Promotes Deception,” by Jeremy A. Yip and Maurice E. Schweitzer. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 2016.

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