Does It Pay To Get Angry During A Negotiation?

When negotiating, we need to consider the effect of our emotions on others
When negotiating, we need to consider the effect of our emotions on others
Image Credit: Jeremy Hill

I can only speak for myself, but I have no problem sharing with you that during a negotiation I can become very, very frustrated with how things are going. No matter if your negotiation styles and negotiating techniques are causing things to go too slow, go off in the wrong direction, or, even worse, not go anywhere. I start to become angrier and angrier as time passes. This, of course, leads to a fairly classic negotiating question. When you become angry during a negotiation, should you hide your emotions or should you show them to the other side?

False Displays of Anger Can Backfire

It turns out that deciding to show your anger during a negotiation to the other side can be a good idea. What happens is that the other side views you as an angry negotiator and therefore as a formidable opponent, they then respond to your demands by making concessions. However, what we need to understand is that the effects of anger in negotiation are far more complex than we might think. When negotiating, we need to follow these guidelines, which show how displays of anger can backfire on us.

We might assume that when we want more from the other side, we only need to act as though we are angry and they’ll cave in. It turns out that not only is this questionable negotiation behavior from an ethical perspective, but it may be an ineffective one. Studies have shown that during a negotiation, negotiators felt distrustful when the other side appeared to be faking their anger and, as a result, made higher demands. These results suggest that—unless you are an actor—strategic displays of anger are likely to backfire if you are interested in building trust in your negotiations.

Anger Can Lead to a Backlash

What we do today can come back to affect us tomorrow. During a negotiation any short-term benefits of showing the other side that we really are angry may have hidden long-term costs. We need to understand that the other side will react to any anger that we show to them. In experiments, participants who had negotiated with an angry other side were more likely than those who had negotiated with an emotionally neutral other side to assign onerous tasks to the other side. What we need to understand is that negotiators who faced an angry person ended up feeling mistreated during the negotiation and later covertly retaliated when given the chance.

So what does all of this mean for us? What we need to understand is that when we are practicing the art of negotiation, we may gain a better deal by expressing our anger to the other side. However, we are then going to be facing the threat of retaliation, possibly in ways we won’t detect until later. A good example of having our anger come back to bite us would be if you were in the process of having a bathroom added to your house and you decided to chew out the contractor for missing a deadline, he might take some shortcuts that you wouldn’t notice until later on as he added the new bathroom.

Anger Can Trigger Unethical Behavior

One of the things that most of us don’t realize is that anger is a very powerful emotion. It can affect how we go about seeing the world. Anger can lead negotiators to make riskier choices and blame others if and when things go wrong. What can make things even worse is that our anger also leads us to behave more deceptively.

Research has been done to discover how anger can cause changes in our behavior. In one experiment, some participants were induced to feel angry while others were not. Those who had been primed to feel angry during a negotiation were more likely to deceptively exaggerate the generosity of their offer to the other side than were those who were primed to feel neutral. Anger reduced participants’ empathy, making them more self-interested and less ethical. The anger that participants felt in these studies was unrelated to their counterparts or the negotiation. What was worse was that anger triggered by one’s counterpart could generate even less ethical behavior.

What All Of This Means For You

In every principled negotiation, there is a lot of emotion. We want to be able to reach a deal with the other side; however, getting there can be a long and tedious process. It is perfectly natural that during a negotiation we may become angry. The big question that we need to deal with is if we should let the other side know that we are angry. If it will help us to get to a deal quicker, then it would be a good thing. If it is going to cause us problems down the line, then we should keep our anger to ourselves. What’s a negotiator to do?

We actually may not be angry with the other side; however, we’d like to convince them that we are angry in order to move things along and get them to make more concessions to us. However, this kind of acting can backfire on us. Studies have shown that if the other side does not really believe that we are angry then they will start to trust you less. We need to understand that showing our anger to the other side can end up having long term effects on us. When we are angry, the other side may start to feel mistreated and will end up retaliating against us when given the chance. Even worse is that anger can cause unethical behavior. What happens is that anger reduced our empathy, making us more self-interested and less ethical.

There’s nothing that we can do about becoming angry during a negotiation. However, there does not seem to be very much value in showing our anger to the other side. Instead, a better idea would be to take a break and cool down when you feel angry and encourage the other side to do the same, lest someone engage in behavior they might later regret.

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Negotiating Skills™

Question For You: If you become angry during a negotiation, should you contine negotiating or should you take a break?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

The reason that we enter into a negotiation is because we want to be able to use our negotiation styles and negotiating techniques to reach a deal with the other side. The challenge that we have is that what we want and what they want may be two very different things. The whole purpose of a negotiation is for us to find a way to build bridges between our two opposing camps and find some common ground that both of us can live with. The one thing that we don’t want to have happen is for us to run into an impassethat would be a negotiation failure. What can we do to make sure that this does not happen?