Sad Negotiators, Poor Outcomes?

By — on / Conflict Resolution, Daily

Adapted from “How Mood Affects Negotiator Trust,” first published in the Negotiation newsletter, September 2006.

In recent years, social psychologists have begun to explore connections among emotions, negotiation, and decision making. Negotiation contributor Jennifer S. Lerner of Carnegie Mellon University and her colleagues have identified two critical themes. First, they have studied the carryover of emotion from one episode, such as a car accident, to an unrelated situation, such as a workplace negotiation. (See Lerner’s article, “Negotiating Under the Influence,” in our June 2005 issue.) Second, these researchers are studying the influence of specific emotions such as happiness, sadness, and anger on decision making.

In related work, Robert Lount and J. Keith Murnighan of the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University considered the role of specific emotions in a classic trust game. In this game, which is typically played for real money, Player 1, the “trustor,” must decide how much of $10 to give to Player 2, the “recipient.” Player 2 receives three times the amount given by Player 1; Player 2 then must decide how much (if any) of this expanded total to give to Player 1. The efficient solution is for Player 1 to give the full $10 to Player 2, who can then divide $30 between them.

In their version, before beginning the game, Lount and Murnighan asked some trustors to write about an experience that made them happy and asked other trustors to write about an experience that made them sad. They then played the trust game. Among “happy” trustors, 53% gave recipients the full $10; only 21% of “sad” trustors did the same. On average, happy trustors gave away $6.76, and sad trustors gave away $5.58.

It appears that a sad mood decreases trust and negatively influences negotiated outcomes. As this research shows, you would do well to avoid carrying emotional baggage into your most important negotiations.

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