Emotion in negotiation is a very common thing. Yet, many negotiation authorities suggest that being emotional is a sign of a weakness or is the behavior of an unsophisticated negotiator; some say that emotions must be repressed. While it is possible to manage your emotions, it can be nearly impossible to hide from them. In fact, doing so would be really dumb, in my opinion.
Both positive and negative emotions are found in negotiation. Positive emotions include joy, exhilaration, or relief. Yet, these positive emotions can derail your thinking. It is possible to be “too happy” in a negotiation. For example, you finally resolve a contract dispute that has taken weeks of meetings and heated talks. In your exhilaration, you leave the client’s office giving “high fives” to your partners. Then it dawns on you: you left the meeting without getting the contract signed. Whoops, the deal is not done. Your emotions got the better of you.
Maybe more common are the negative emotions such as anger, jealousy, fear, remorse, and guilt. Negative emotions can cloud your thinking. The expression “seeing red” describes a physical reaction to anger which includes increased blood pressure and flushed cheeks. Anger and other negative emotions can be barriers to an agreement; some of these barriers can seem insurmountable. Being in conflict can take away your energy, attention, and productivity. Emotions are real and must be dealt with or things will quickly come to a screeching halt.
When you are the angry person, one way handle it is to take a “time-out” and cool off. A cool glass of water can help literally lower your temperature. The bigger challenge is to be aware of your own emotions and to self regulate. That may be easier said than done. One way to tell if you are “too angry” is to watch other people’s reactions to your behavior. Ever notice how people back away, tighten their mouths, and turn their heads when you are very angry? If the other party is acting this way, maybe you need to cool down.
When it is the other party that is angry, simply bringing the issue to their attention can help. By acknowledging their emotional state, you are validating them and their feelings. You can say, “You seem upset. Is it something that I have said or done?” This puts the focus on you and not them. You may not know if you did or didn’t do anything to cause their anger, but what you do know is that they are upset.
You may get a response like, “You bet I am upset and here’s why…” Now is the time to sit back and listen. Let them unload. When they are done, it may be possible to simply pick up where you left off and continue the negotiation.
Other times it may actually be something that you said or did and they are really angry about it. By getting this information on the table, you will get a chance to react on the spot and explain the situation. Or, you can stop the negotiation and reschedule for another time. This will give you time to figure out what to do; it will also give them time to cool off. Maybe the issue will lose its significance by letting it rest a while.
Some people get angry just for the hell of it. Or, they put on a show to push your buttons; this is a negotiation tactic to throw you off guard. This is the tactic of an aggressive negotiator, which is someone who cares little for the relationship. If it is just a tactic, confronting them will quickly cool their fire. It can be as simple as catching them at their game. My experience is that they will put the tactic aside after they get caught.
Normally, anger expressed in a negotiation is not personal, but it may feel that way. By probing you may find that the root cause is something like your product’s quality or something that happened yesterday. Seldom is it about you or something you did.
If you are unable to resolve this anger, rescheduling may do the trick. But, after a time-out you may find that things are still blocked; if this is the case, mediation may be necessary. Mediation is when a neutral third party facilitates a dialog with other parties who desire a resolution but cannot achieve it through negotiation. Sometimes the mediation on will focus on the emotions first. That may be all it takes to resolve the dispute and let the negotiation continue.
John Bradley Jackson
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