Negotiation Strategies: Emotional Expression at the Bargaining Table

Emotional expression as a negotiation strategy

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emotional expression

Most of the existing negotiation research on affect in negotiation has focused on emotional experience rather than on emotional expression.

Yet negotiation studies have shown that emotional expression can occur independently from feelings, making expression worthy of investigation.

Marwan Sinaceur and Larissa Tiedens of Stanford University found that negotiators made more concessions when facing counterparts who expressed (but did not necessarily feel) anger. In this way, emotional expression manifests itself as both a negotiating skill and negotiation strategy to be employed by negotiators at the bargaining table.


Build powerful negotiation skills and become a better dealmaker and leader. Download our FREE special report, Negotiation Skills: Negotiation Strategies and Negotiation Techniques to Help You Become a Better Negotiator, from the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School.


Negotiating Skills and Negotiation Strategies: Emotions and Value Creation

Not only did those who expressed anger benefit by claiming more value, but they also did not lose their ability to create value.

While experienced emotions may direct the way in which you process information, emotional expressions seem to influence your counterpart’s social inferences and subsequent behavior.

Expressing positive emotions may increase the willingness of your counterpart to agree to your proposals and to view you and the situation in a better light.

While putting your counterpart in a good mood is a useful strategy, it often can seem like an impossible goal.

In fact, people transmit feelings to each other subconsciously, mimicking each other’s facial expressions, body language, and speech patterns.

If you smile, it’s likely your counterpart will, too, which in turn may incline him to become happier.

Fritz Strack, Leonard Martin, and Sabine Stepper found that people rated cartoons as funnier when they were holding a pen in their teeth – using the muscles associated with smiling – than when holding a pen with their lips – using muscles incompatible with smiling.

Merely mimicking a smile may trigger some of the benefits of smiling.

What this means is that negotiators may find it a smart strategy to express emotions that they do not necessarily experience.

For instance, it can make sense to be especially warm and friendly early in the negotiation, so as to catalyze positive emotions in your counterpart at this stage, when value creation is most likely to occur.

In later stages of the process, you might choose to express more negative emotions, such as anger, in an attempt to claim additional value for yourself.

We would all be worse off without the information gleaned from our emotional response to a negotiation.

While feelings too often draw our attention away from the demands of an interaction, they can also serve as useful tools for interpreting and guiding your reactions and those of the other side.

What are your thoughts on emotional expression at the bargaining table?


Build powerful negotiation skills and become a better dealmaker and leader. Download our FREE special report, Negotiation Skills: Negotiation Strategies and Negotiation Techniques to Help You Become a Better Negotiator, from the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School.


Related Negotiation Skills Article: Conflict Management at the Office

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

Originally published March 2014.

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One Response to “Negotiation Strategies: Emotional Expression at the Bargaining Table”

  • Brendan

    I teach my students that emotional manipulation is a deceptive, but ethically acceptable tactic. You may feign disappointment with a proposal that you would otherwise embrace in order to test the limits of your adversary’s reservation point. However, anger at the bargaining table is counterproductive. Don’t lose your temper. The first person to get angry in a negotiation is at a disadvantage. They will realize it was inappropriate and may feel guilty. Sometimes that guilt is expressed by offering an unexpected concession as an apology for their incivility.

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