Keep a poker face. Don’t get emotional. Remain cool and rational. Don’t let them get to you. Good advice for negotiating? It used to be. Most researchers and academics, until fairly recently, ignored emotion completely in negotiation and focused instead on the cognitive and rational aspects of the bargaining process.1Formerly, emotion was considered to be an obstacle to a good negotiated outcome and a foe to an effective bargaining process. This view was encapsulated in one of the elements of principled negotiation: “separate the people from the problem.”2 Although this element allows for a constructive discussion of emotion in negotiation, as anyone who has negotiated with a very difficult counterpart can attest,the person and the feelings that the interaction creates often become the problem.
Emotion is an integral and essential part of the human experience and, thus, inherent in negotiation. Think back to a recent negotiation that you were involved in. Were you fearful that your counterpart in the negotiation would be better prepared or more skillful? Perhaps you were hopeful that the facts favoredyou and that your alternatives were much better than those of your counterpart. Were you anxious because your career possibilities were tied to the outcome, such as a good grade? During the negotiation, were you surprised by some new facts you didn’t know or made angry by the condescending attitude of the other negotiator? And at the end, were you elated at the outcome, or did you end up withbuyer’s remorse?
These are just a few of the emotions you may have felt during a negotiation. What about the emotions of your client or the other party? What about the emotional state you came with to the negotiation? Perhaps your mood was triggered by events unrelated to the negotiation, such as the coffee you spilled on your new, expensive suit or the speeding ticket you got on the way.3 It is notsurprising that we have been described as being in “perpetual emotion”4 and that we often negotiate under the influence of emotion.
Recently, scientists and academics have embraced the study of emotion in negotiation, and numerous books, studies, and articles have flowed from this interest. Their research has revealed that the former view of emotion in negotiation, which considered emotion as anenemy and calm rationality as the goal, was limited in many respects. For example, evidence from the neurosciences5 has shown that instead of being in opposition to reason, emotion is an integral part of reason and decision making. In fact, an absence of emotion has been found to have the same disruptive effect on decision making as strong negative emotion.6 And suppressing an emotion has beenfound to result in impaired cognitive ability7 and recall.8 Also, ignored or suppressed emotions can be messy because they tend to surface and make themselves heard, usually at the most inopportune time.9
There are other reasons not to ignore or suppress emotion. Emotion plays many important roles: it motivates us to act; it provides us with important information about ourselves, the other party,and the negotiation; it helps organize and sharpen our cognitive processes; and it enhances the process and outcome of a negotiation when used strategically. While the emotion we experience provides us with information, the emotion we display provides information to others that can be an incentive or deterrent to their behavior. In particular, “[n]egative emotions serve as a call for mental orbehavioral adjustment whereas positive emotions serve as a cue to stay the course.”10 In a negotiation, the party who expresses a positive emotion may be signaling the importance of an interest or issue that may help in expanding the pie and brainstorming. In contrast, the party who expresses a negative emotion may be signaling that a reservation point or limit is close. Further, a negotiator who...