The insincere negotiator: The risks of emotional displays

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Anger can carry an advantage in negotiation, past research has shown. When we display anger, our counterparts tend to view us as powerful and intimidating. Consequently, they make more concessions than they would ordinarily and lower their demands.

On the flip side, negotiators who appear happy tend to do worse than others. Happiness and contentedness appear to signal satisfaction with how a negotiation is going; as a result, counterparts tend to demand more of happy negotiators.

In two recent experiments reported in the Negotiation Journal, researchers Han-Ying Tng of the Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School in Singapore and Al K. C. Au of the National University of Singapore tested whether these results hold when negotiators are faking their emotions. In one of the experiments, undergraduate students in Singapore were told they would be engaging in a negotiation simulation with another student via instant messaging. In fact, an experimenter posed as the negotiating partner. Before negotiating, participants were given information about their counterpart’s personality that described him or her as (1) sincere and frank about his or her emotions; (2) insincere and manipulative; or (3) unpredictable in engaging with others.

During the online negotiation that followed, participants took turns exchanging offers with their counterparts, and they also received information about the other parties’ emotions, namely whether they were angry or happy with how the negotiation was going. The results showed that when negotiators perceived their counterparts’ emotional displays to be authentic, they conceded more to angry counterparts than to happy ones. But when negotiators believed their counterparts’ feelings were not authentic, they made fewer concessions to counterparts who were acting angry than to those acting happy. Negotiators made similar levels of concessions to those whose expressions of anger or happiness were ambiguous.

Using anger as a strategic tool can backfire in negotiation, this study suggests. We might conclude that false displays of happiness, by contrast, can be beneficial. However, because it’s difficult to control whether your counterpart will view your emotional displays as authentic or not, this strategy could backfire as well. The lesson, then, may be to resist the urge to try to convey emotions you don’t feel, lest your performance be unconvincing.

Source: “Strategic Display of Anger and Happiness in Negotiation: The Moderating Role of Perceived Authenticity,” by Han-Ying Tng and Al K. C. Au. Negotiation Journal, July 2014.

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