Managing Emotions in Negotiation

October 15, 2015 By Irma Tyler Wood

When I lead a two or three day negotiation training workshop, I begin the workshop by asking participants to share their goals.  Invariably, someone in the group will say, “I want to learn how to take the emotion out of negotiations,” Others in the room will often nod their heads in vigorous agreement.  Others will say, “I want to learn how to deal with other people’s emotions in negotiation.”  The first goal, ridding the negotiations of emotion, is not only impossible it is not desirable.  The second goal, dealing effectively with the emotions of others is both possible and desirable.   Let’s examine these two goals in depth.      

Emotions are hard wired in human beings, they are a survival mechanism that has and continues to insure the survival of the species.  Emotions are the evidence of strong values, passions and beliefs.  They are what give life and work zest.  Emotions help you influence and persuade the people across from you in any negotiation.  Emotions help one learn and retain what one has learned. In fact the stronger the emotion, the greater the learning. So why would anyone want to rid their negotiations of emotions? 

I think what participants are really saying is, “I’d like get rid of negative emotions like anger and fear” or, “I want to get rid of emotions I can’t control” or I want to get rid of emotions which take my focus away from what I’m there to accomplish.”     

An effective negotiator, seeks first to understand and manage his/her own emotions, which is the key to responding effectively to the emotions of others.  Are you aware of your emotional triggers, the behaviors, words and actions that trigger strong emotion, positive and negative, in you?  Awareness allows you to choose how to manage emotion, rather than simply react to it.  Ways to raise your awareness includes:

  • Spend some time reflecting on negotiations that were not as successful as they might have been because emotions and egos got in the way.  Examine how you reacted when emotions seemed to derail the negotiation process.  Look, not only at your external words and actions, examine the feelings that were going on inside you.   Did you feel threatened, helpless, angry, anxious?  How do those feelings manifest themselves in your behavior in those situations? 
  • Sit down with trusted colleagues, ask for their observations and reflections about how you handle emotions in various situations.
  • In your next negotiation situation, be aware of what your body does when your emotions are stirred.  Do you find your breath getting shallower, do your muscles tense up, do you stop talking?  Do you talk more or louder?  Your body will send you signals, long before you become consciously aware that your emotions are now engaged.
  • Use what you learn to set some goals for yourself on how you want to manage your emotions going forward, i.e.,
    • I will set specific goals for how I want to manage conflict.
    • I will anticipate those issues and behaviors that are likely to cause strong emotion and develop a plan for dealing with them.
    • Once I know my emotional triggers, I’ll ask a trusted friend to engage in the behaviors that are likely lead to reactive behavior on my part, so I can practice responding in a calm cool manner.  For example, when someone yells at me, I tend to lose it.  I want to have at least three responses in my repertoire for how to deal with a yeller.  They could include:
  1. Lowering my voice each time he/she yells,
  2. Saying, “I can’t think when you yell, I’m going to give myself five minutes to calm down, so that I can think constructively about how we solve this conflict,” or,
  3. Saying, “I can yell too, but I don’t think that will help us solve this problem.  Let’s talk about why you feel so strongly about this that you need to yell.” 

Now you’re ready to think about how you want to deal with the emotions of other people.  Some ways to effectively deal with other people’s emotions include:

  • Assessing the working relationships you have with the other negotiators before you get to the negotiations.  Are there “Red Flags and Elephants,” i.e. old history or baggage that might cause strong emotions.  If so, set aside some time to deal with them before you get to the negotiations or at the very beginning of the negotiation process. 
  • Being as explicit about your goals for the working relationship and the negotiation process as you are about your goals for the outcome of the negotiation.
  • Negotiating at the beginning of the negotiation process about how you and the other negotiators want to deal with the inevitable conflicts and emotional issues that are going to emerge as we negotiate. 

These are a few ways to manage emotion in negotiation effectively.  For more about how to put this in practice, visit our website at