Volume 18, Number 6
A Negotiator's Guide to EmotionBy Daniel L. Shapiro
Volume 18, Number 6
A Negotiator's Guide to Emotion
Four "Laws" to Effective Practice
Many negotiators intensely focus on substantive matters, considering the potential costs and benefits of one proposal over another, this concession over that one. We presume that substantive gains represent the essence of good negotiation and that a singular attention to such matters is a wise maneuver that will maximize our success. We can forget, though, that our behavior and the behavior of others is in large part the result of the pushes and pulls of emotion. This article discusses four laws of emotion pertinent to effective negotiation.Law number one is the Law of Perpetual Emotion: Emotions are a constant stream within us. During negotiation, we experience a whole range of affective currents, including impulses, emotions, moods, and attitudes. These four types of affective currents frequently interact with one another. To deal with this perpetual emotion, monitor the affective currents of the interaction. Awareness of emotions is critical to negotiation success; it increases the effectiveness and sustainability of your decisions and relationships. Don't immediately think of yourself as an emotionally omniscient negotiator or you will set yourself up for failure, as every interaction is filled with a complexity of affective currents. Use an incremental approach, gradually becoming more aware of the affective currents within your interactions.Further, emotions often are hard to see at ground level. Step back from the situation at hand and imagine that you are watching from the balcony the negotiation on the stage. Observe the interaction and try to make sense of what the various parties are feeling and why.Law number two is the Law of Emotional Complexity. During conflict situations, we often see the emotional terrain as having only one dimension-anger. Anger is our stereotypic interpretation of why people act the way they do in conflict. Instead, "complexify" the seemingly straightforward; think of the emotional world as multidimensional. Don't assume that you and others are simply angry. Brainstorm emotions that you or the other side might be experiencing but that are not immediately evident. Make a list of emotions in your schedule book and refer to it before, during, and after negotiations to reflect on the emotional terrain of the interaction. Realize that there is probably more going on than you think. Because of this element of the unknown, be careful not to draw negative character attributions too quickly.Similarly, you are not always aware of all the issues and factors affecting you. On a personal level, what fears and wishes of yours manifest within the negotiation? What image of yourself do you want to convey? Consider these personal issues before negotiating, and be sensitive to their existence during the negotiation.Law number three is the Law of Variable Expression, which states that our emotional expressions are not always an accurate depiction of our internal emotional state, and vice versa. In other words, our insides don't always match our outsides. This mismatch can be deliberate or unintentional. Sometimes we have an emotion pitted in our gut, and yet we mask its expression deliberately. We may subdue the expression of the emotion, or we may exaggerate it. However, emotions often slip out unintentionally. In some interactions, we express our emotions minimally, but they represent important emotional messages. Because our insides and outsides don't always match, it's not a safe bet to assume how others feel just from what they tell you or how they express their ideas. Develop ideas about their emotional state only after gathering information from multiple sources, including body posture, tone of voice, and facial expressions. Another important source of information is self-reports about how they feel. Ask them questions such as, "How do you feel about the proposal as it stands?" When you ask how they feel, make sure you get a "feeling" answer and not a descriptive one. Consider the following dialogue between two colleagues who work closely together on negotiation projects:
- Mort: "How'd you feel about the meeting?"
- Jen: "I thought that most of the people in the meeting found our presentation helpful."
- Jen: "I was surprised that most of the people found our meeting helpful. Going into the meeting, I was worried that the boss was going to shoot our ideas down. I'm relieved that he didn't."
Daniel L. Shapiro is an associate at the Harvard Negotiation Project at Harvard Law School and a research fellow in psychology at Harvard Medical School.
This articleis an abridged and edited version of one that originally appeared on page 3 of Dispute Resolution, Winter 2001 (7:2).