Is there a place for emotions in negotiation?

People often say, “I’m a professional, feelings don’t matter.” “Good decision-making is objective. Emotions just get in the way.” Or my favorite, as tribute to the Godfather, “It’s not personal. It’s business.”

But bets are that you’ve sat in a meeting, fuming on the inside not sure what to say. Or been so frustrated with someone that you didn’t want to work with them. Or had a colleague lose his cool and blown up at you…

Whether or not we actually acknowledge the emotion, it’s there – the anger, the frustration, the fear, the insecurity. Particularly when stakes are high or the clock is ticking on the deadline. The danger of not acknowledging the emotion is that it’ll seep into the conversation anyway – under the guise of blame, judgment, profanity, inhibited productivity, the silent treatment or any other unconstructive behavior. So, what is one to do?
Understand common sources of emotion – the 5 core concerns

Recent work at Harvard University has identified that emotions typically stem from 5 core concerns. When met, these concerns stimulate positive emotions – happiness, willingness to cooperate, motivation to work. When unmet, negative emotions like anger, resentment and apathy can throw brick walls into your negotiation. If emotion is getting in the way of your negotiations, which of the concerns below is not being met? Ask yourself the following questions to get to the source of the emotion:

  • Appreciation – are people’s thoughts, feelings, and actions valued?
  • Autonomy – is their freedom to make decisions respected?
  • Affiliation – are we adversaries or colleagues?
  • Status – do they feel like they are being treated as inferior to others?
  • Role – is the role they are playing meaningful?

Answering these questions will help identify where emotions may be coming from. In doing so, you’ll have a better idea of how to address them. By meeting the underlying concerns causing the emotion, you can stimulate positive emotions to smooth the negotiation process and reduce negative emotions that are getting in the way.

If your negotiation counterpart is angry or frustrated, which of their core concerns are not being met? What is infringing on their core concerns? How could you meet those concerns so that they will want to work with you?

For example, a recent client of ours was a manager struggling to keep members of his staff working on a new restructuring project. It had gotten to the point where one team member said, “What’s the point in trying? I’m just a cog in a wheel.” In reflecting on the situation through the lens of the 5 core concerns, he discovered that his team felt unappreciated for their efforts and like they had meaningless roles – which had resulted in general apathy toward the effort. In acknowledging their efforts, refocusing the group on the overarching purpose and seeking their input on how best to troubleshoot the problems, our client was able to create more meaningful roles for his team members, express appreciation for their efforts to date, and reenergize the team to move the project toward completion.

That goes to say, if everyone’s core concerns are met, you’re more likely to get things done and achieve an outcome you desire. So next time you come across an emotion that’s holding up your negotiation, figure out which core concerns are unmet and think about a strategy for turning the negative emotions into positive ones.

Best Wishes,

Elaine Li

For more on the 5 core concerns, and emotions in negotiation, read Beyond Reason by Roger Fisher and Dan Shapiro or contact CMA Learning Group.

To learn more about interest based negotiation, we recommend the book “Getting to Yes by Roger Fisher & William Ury.”

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