The Right Way to Regulate Emotion in Negotiation

How expressing emotion impacts the bargaining process

By on / Dispute Resolution

Emotional flooding – when strong, specific, and often negative feelings overwhelm us – poses obvious hazards to negotiators, who need to be able to think clearly when faced with the complex, strategically demanding task of creating and claiming value.

For this reason, emotional regulation can be an essential component of negotiation.

But different types of regulation create different results.


Discover how to improve your dispute resolution skills in this free report, Dispute Resolution, Working Together Toward Conflict Resolution on the Job and at Home, from Harvard Law School.


In a 2000 study, James Gross, Jane Richards, and Oliver John explored the social and cognitive costs of two forms of emotional regulation: suppression, or controlling one’s emotions by not expressing them; and reappraisal, or controlling emotions by changing the way one thinks about the situation.

When your counterpart makes a personal attack against you, you might suppress your emotions in an attempt to resist “rising to the bait.”

But if you expect your opponent to try to put you off balance at key moments, you can use the attack to help you identify important issues.

Comparing the effect of these two regulation strategies, the researchers found that negotiators who suppressed their emotion experienced impaired cognitive processing.

What’s more, they were less well likely by their counterparts, a fact that may have diminished their ability to engage in future joint value creation.

It’s unwise to suppress emotions in negotiations, and not just because suppression is likely to lead to worse outcomes and greater rancor.

Trying to suppress a feeling that comes on strong – such as the outrage you may feel after being issued a threat – can be almost impossible.

Emotions provide both you and your counterpart with unique information that may lead to mutually beneficial outcomes.

Instead of trying to suppress your feelings, consider when you may be subject to strong emotional experiences in advance and reappraise the situation before experiencing the emotion.

Through reappraisal, you can focus on the meaning of a situation and anticipate your emotional reaction.

What if you decided ahead of time to view a threat as providing important information about what the other side values?

Rather than reacting emotionally, you could use the information to adjust aspects of future proposals.


Discover how to improve your dispute resolution skills in this free report, Dispute Resolution, Working Together Toward Conflict Resolution on the Job and at Home, from Harvard Law School.


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

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