Our emotions—including anger, sadness, happiness, and disgust—influence our negotiation behavior in systematic ways, research shows. In a new study, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev researcher Uriel Haran is the first to examine whether feeling guilty affects our competitive drive.
Guilt is often triggered by behavior we’re ashamed of, and it doesn’t feel very good. On the plus side, guilt prompts us to address problems, increases our empathy, and makes us particularly valuable employees, as it motivates us to avoid disappointing others. This desire to please—whether we’re guilt-prone by nature or feeling guilty in the moment—can also inhibit our competitive drive, even when our guilt is unrelated to the competition, Haran found.
In one experiment, participants read scenarios that induced them to feel either guilty, ashamed, or neutral. Next, they engaged in a competitive task on a computer. When participants were told they would be competing with another player for the chance to win a prize, those in a guilty frame of mind were less motivated to win than those feeling ashamed or neutral—though their guilt was unrelated to the competition. However, when participants were told their performance would not harm others’ outcomes, those feeling guilty were just as competitive as other participants. Another experiment found that people who are generally guilt-prone exerted less effort on a competitive task than people less prone to guilt.
Haran’s results imply that feeling guilty could lead us to make unnecessary concessions in negotiation. That’s all the more reason to try to relieve the uncomfortable experience of guilt.
Source: “May the Best Man Lose: Guilt Inhibits Competitive Motivation,” by Uriel Haran. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 2019.