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Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.Albert Einstein

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Managing emotions during a negotiation

Managing emotions during a negotiation

Emotions play a major role in the course of a negotiation. How can we learn from recent research in behavioral psychology and neuroscience to take advantage of these emotions, rather than suffering from them?


A negotiation involves two parties and, more importantly, is played at two levels for each of the parties: emotions play as big a role as rational arguments, whether we will it or not. Who has never felt anger when faced with a stubborn counterpart seeking to impose his/her views? There is then a strong temptation to oppose him/her, actively or passively, even at the expense of our own interest. Conversely, who has never let themselves be influenced by the arguments of someone for whom he/she felt sympathy, to later regret it?

Such phenomena can hardly be avoided. These behaviors result from the way our brain operates, with sometimes irrational reactions?albeit completely coherent. For example, confrontational situations naturally activate our most fundamental emotions such as fear or anger, which in turn trigger an automatic “flight or fight” response. Both counterparts reacting in the same way explains escalation phenomena that appear preposterous from the outside, such as experienced negotiators who end up insulting each other. Even when they manage to regain control, other mechanisms follow. With each party feeling attacked by the other, sympathy for the counterpart erodes. Yet, the brain uses a feeling of sympathy or social closeness as a shortcut to decide whether it can trust another person’s word or not. Beyond the angry outburst, it is the credibility of the negotiators that sustains durable damage. To make things worse, once a negotiator has started adopting an attitude of opposition, he/she will find it difficult to alter his/her position, even if it is to his/her own benefit. Indeed, we subconsciously adopt behavior that is consistent with our previous one! Thus, an initial emotion that was badly managed, then made worse by some poorly handled biases, can rapidly stall the dynamic of a negotiation.   

Knowing these mechanisms can help negotiators prevent themselves from activating them to their own detriment. Thereafter, they can even use these to their advantage to create an emotional context favorable to the cooperation needed to reach an agreement.

In this synopsis:
- Understanding the impact of your emotions on a negotiation
- Managing the emotional dimension of a negotiation better
- Adapting your negotiation style to that of your counterpart

Synopsis n.270b