Negotiation research you can use: Why displays of anger can backfire

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When negotiators get angry, their counterparts often snap to attention, research shows. We tend to perceive negotiators who appear angry as hard bargainers, and thus make lower demands of them and offer them higher concessions than when dealing with happy opponents, University of Amsterdam professor Gerben A. Van Kleef has found in his research.

Sensing this, negotiators sometimes feign anger to try to induce compliance. Some studies have shown that such fake displays can help negotiators score short-term wins.

However, new research by University of New Hampshire professor Rachel L. Campagna and her colleagues concludes that we should think twice before feigning anger—not only for ethical reasons but also for strategic ones.

In several experiments, participants who were instructed to appear angry when negotiating with another participant were able to do so—in fact, they even felt angry after pretending to be angry. Interestingly, however, negotiators who feigned anger did not succeed in getting better deals as compared to participants who were instructed to appear happy or neutral.

Moreover, after their negotiations, those who acted angry, as compared to those who acted happy or neutral, reported experiencing higher levels of guilt for the way they treated their counterpart. This guilt was motivated by their sense that the counterpart didn’t trust them. In turn, feeling untrusted led participants to be more generous toward their counterpart in a subsequent task that involved either allocating money or investing in the counterpart’s career development.

It seems that after lashing out at their counterpart to try to get a better deal, negotiators felt so guilty about their behavior that they tried to make amends by behaving generously toward the other party. While some negotiators surely will not experience such guilt, for most of us, angrily confronting another person just to secure concessions is likely to leave us looking for ways to right the wrong. This generosity, of course, could wipe out any added value we claimed through our anger displays. The bottom line? Feigning anger to score points in negotiation not only is ethically questionable but also likely to backfire in the long run.

Resource: “Motivated by Guilt and Low Felt Trust: The Impact of Negotiators’ Anger Expressions on the Implementation of Negotiated Agreements,” by Rachel L. Campagna, Alexandra A. Mislin, and William P. Bottom. Journal of Behavioral Decision Making, 2019.

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