How to Master Your Emotions at the Negotiating Table

Negotiators focus too much attention on tactics, offers, and counteroffers, and don’t give enough consideration to how emotions affect what happens at the bargaining table.

Whatever your emotional state during a negotiation, there are ways to master your feelings to your advantage. In a recent Harvard Business Review article, Harvard Business School Assistant Professor Alison Wood Brooks shares how. Here’s an excerpt:

Over the past decade, researchers have begun examining how specific emotions can affect the behavior of negotiators. They’ve studied what happens when people express them to the other party through words or actions. In negotiations that are less transactional and involve parties in long-term relationships, understanding the role of emotions is even more important.

AnxietyTry your utmost to avoid feeling anxious while negotiating. Train, practice, rehearse, and keep sharpening your negotiating skills. Anxiety is often a response to novel stimuli, so the more familiar the stimuli, the less anxious you will feel. 

AngerIn many contexts, feeling or expressing anger as a negotiation tactic can backfire. Building rapport before, during, and after a negotiation can reduce the odds that the other party will become angry. If you seek to frame the negotiation cooperatively — to make it clear that you’re seeking a win-win solution instead of trying to get the lion’s share of a fixed pie — you may limit the other party’s perception that an angry grab for value will work well.

DisappointmentResearch shows that people are most likely to regret actions they didn’t take — the missed opportunities and errors of omission, rather than errors of commission. That can be a powerful insight for negotiators, whose primary actions should be asking questions, listening, proposing solutions, and brainstorming new alternatives if the parties can’t agree. People who ask a lot of questions tend to be better liked, and they learn more things. In negotiations, information is king and learning should be a central goal.

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