No Hard Feelings

Published: Mar 17 , 2016
Author: Alan Smith

Well there are actually!

Negotiation involves cold logic, cutting through all the verbiage, careful and clear analysis of the volatile and unpredictable environment before coolly selecting the correct option.

Problem is we rarely get the time when making the hundreds of decisions we need to make each day in the negotiations that we do in both our commercial and personal lives. Emotions play a huge part in the actions we take and to some extent the brains higher function has been argued is to sort out many of the choices we have already made and make sense of them after the fact.

A study run as part of an MBA course run by Alison Wood Brooks at Harvard suggests that the outcome of the deals we do will depend to a large extent by the way we deal with our emotions in the cut and thrust of conflict management. The study involved splitting large groups of students and putting them on either side of a conflict. The conflict makes one side the client and the other the supplier in a long term relationship that has started to go wrong. They need to find a solution that works for both and the outcomes could be an amended deal, termination or an expensive legal breakdown. The case is played literally hundreds of times and the outcomes recorded.

In half the cases however there is a significant difference in that one side is briefed to act angrily and aggressively for the first 10 minutes before settling down to negotiate. They are asked to blame the other side personally for the problem, interrupt them when they speak, raise their voice and generally be unpleasant (and apparently they really get into it and start questioning parentage, swearing, and banging tables, often in wonderfully creative ways!).

After 10 minutes they calm down and try to reach a settlement.

The results make interesting reading. But are not surprising.

In cases where anger had been deliberately introduced there were significantly fewer deals done and when deals were reached they are generally much weaker, with significant money being left on the table. No value creation has been explored from either party. Critically, when those deals had been reached the chances of them going to fruition seemed less likely.

What do we learn from this?

Anger, and the potential anger or anxiety response to the other side’s anger, is counter-productive.

Now, of course we can not stop other people from being either genuinely or tactically angry with us, but we can control how we react to it. If the other side does become angry, seek to soothe, apologize, even if you feel the emotion is unwarranted. Perhaps the other thing you should consider is that many negotiations do not complete in one session and you should manage your time and the process to take the steam out of the emotion and take a break from the table to let things calm down.

You should also build time into preparation to develop your own emotional strategy, think about how you will react to the other side and their issues and emotions, what you will do if the other side gets angry or anxious.

I know that it is hard to do in this time pressured commercial world, but it will be time well spent.

Alan Smith  


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Alan Smith
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