The Role of Emotions in Negotiation

We negotiate in the workplace every day. Yet all of us have a tendency to think that feelings and emotions have no place in the workplace and are best avoided or glossed over, one of the more recent publications from the highly reputed Harvard Law Negotiation Project is entitled “Beyond Reason. Using Emotions as You Negotiate”. The authors propose that in any negotiation setting you work on generating positive emotions in your negotiation partner, by attending to what they term ‘core concerns’ or emotional and psychological needs that are universally important. The first of these, and in my view the one that will take you most of the way in terms of fostering positive rapport, is to work on developing and demonstrating some level of appreciation and acknowledgement of the other person and their viewpoint.

Appreciation, according to the authors, can be broken into three components:

  • Understanding the other person’s viewpoint
  • Finding merit in what the other person does, thinks or feels
  • Communicating our understanding of this to the other person.

Understanding the other person’s views requires an openness to asking about and hearing where the other is ‘coming from’. More important often than the ‘content’ is to listen for emotions behind their words. Rather than reacting to ‘angry words’ look to name and acknowledge the anger they are experiencing.

The second, finding merit in what the other person does, thinks or feels, is the real challenge. This is however, also the most important because insincere acknowledgement is easily detected. Remember, however, finding merit and acknowledging the other person’s view doesn’t mean agreeing with it or negating your view. Instead, it’s about going beyond your own emotional response and attempting to understand them at some level. You might find fault with much of their actions or words but it’s about searching for some part of their perspective about which you can genuinely say “I can see how you might feel that given the fact that …” or “Although I find what you did difficult, I can see why you might have taken that action, in this situation” or “I can see how you came to that conclusion because you made these assumptions about me”

Communicating this is of course the third element. Your tone and intention in this are again crucial. Non-verbal communication will always outweigh any kind of ‘dressed up’ content so if you don’t mean it, don’t say it.

Three questions that might help in thinking through the situation beforehand:

  1. In what ways might they feel that you do not understand them?
  2. In what ways might their viewpoint have merit?
  3. How might you communicate your understanding to them?

Even if you don’t get the outcome you want, you will find that your conversation will be more positive and less confrontational. And, as authors Fisher and Shapiro state “By appreciating them, you are more likely to foster their appreciation of you”

from “Beyond Reason. Using Emotions as You Negotiate”, Roger Fisher and Daniel Shapiro, 2006, Penguin