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Updated: 14 Dec 2020

Dealing With Your Emotions in Negotiations



This article provides practical advice on how to recognize, express and control emotional behaviour during your negotiations.

Many negotiations, due to their nature, can create and foster strong negative emotions. Where individuals meet to primarily promote their self-interests or where the past histories of the parties involved have been coloured by acrimony, it is not surprising that often emotions are more powerful than the facts in shaping the course and outcome of the negotiations. However without emotions it would be impossible for people to reconcile important conflicts. Emotions motivate us to act and keep us working hard to settle differences. The problems emerge when we allow emotion to affect the way we negotiate. To negotiate well we need to step back and consider the big picture. We need to be able to view the issues and discussions rationally – to be able to balance emotion with reason. So how do we deal with emotions in a way that allows us to control our emotions and, where appropriate, express them constructively?

1. Acceptance and awareness

To be human is to feel, and there is nothing wrong with having emotions. Accept that feelings are normal and natural. Often however we are unaware of our emotions. And if we are unaware of what we are feeling then most likely we are unaware of the feelings of others. The hallmark of emotional intelligence, the single best predictor of success in life, is to understand our own feelings and those of others. It is important to realize that feelings usually come in bundles – some are obvious and some are more difficult to find. In order to tease apart all of the feelings we may be experiencing, it is necessary to become familiar with the spectrum of feelings that are not readily discovered – these include hurt, shame, fear, self-doubt, sadness, jealousy, and loneliness. Often we may suppress or deny our emotions – especially if they are feelings we do not like to admit having. However, suppression of feelings, particularly strong emotions, usually leads to leakage or bursts. They will come out, often in the most inappropriate way and at the most awkward time. Since our body is closely tied to our emotions, one way to become more aware of our emotions is to notice how our body is behaving. Headaches and aching muscles in the neck and shoulders may indicate panic, a tight chest may signal fear, a racing heart and perspiration usually signal emotions akin to anger, and fatigue and slowed speech suggest sadness. By learning how our body reveals our inner emotional state, we can not only be more aware of what we are feeling but most likely will discover the onset of emotional states more quickly.

2. How to Deal with Extreme Emotion

In general when some feeling inside seems to be growing larger and out of control, naming or identifying that feeling internally will, by itself, tend to diminish the feeling and bring it under control. It also helps to be able to adopt the stance of a detached observer. This allows perspective to analyze the emotions and think of ways of dealing with them. It is important to note that even awareness and recognition of emotions may not be enough to control behavior. Due to the way the human brain operates sometimes very strong emotions, such as fear or rage, may lead us to act before we have consciously decided what to do. Also most of our blood goes to our extremities when we experience anger – so although we are well prepared for a physical fight, our problem solving abilities will not be at their best, to say the least. If a person is able to avoid reacting immediately, buying some time is always a good way to deal with surging emotions. Some techniques for buying time include hitting an imaginary pause button or taking an actual physical break. The mental pause button can be triggered any time you begin feeling uncomfortable or when heavy emotions are starting to surge. Common ways to take a physical break include a trip to the wash-room or a break for lunch or coffee. If a longer time period is needed, the negotiations can be stopped and another meeting or telephone call scheduled later. This also permits the time to become a detached observer – to figure out what we are feeling and why. Be aware that emotions are not fixed – they can be altered by negotiating with them. Since our feelings are related to our thoughts and perceptions, we can change our feelings by changing our thoughts and perceptions. By changing the beliefs and information that underlie our thoughts and perceptions, we can shift our feelings. Hot feelings, which are less adaptable and rational, can be changed to cool feelings, which are healthier and less volatile. For example, anger can be changed to annoyance and irritation, depression to sadness, severe guilt to regret, and anxiety to concern.

3. Expressing Emotion

Once we are fully aware and have consciously recognised our emotions, we can decide whether to express them. Although there is nothing wrong with having emotions, expressing them by inappropriate means can be damaging and counterproductive. If we decide to express our emotions to the other side – we must express them appropriately. Don’t vent. Be concise. Describe your feelings carefully. Don’t attribute blame or judge- just share. Try to relate the emotional tone to the substantive issue. Develop a range of expression – from rational discussion to increasing emotional content to letting your emotions take control. Emotions provide important information to us and to the other side. If we are able to express our emotions in a constructive way and at an appropriate time in the negotiation, rather than destroying or hurting the negotiation process, your negotiation skills will be far above average.

4. Gender, Emotion and Negotiation

Here are some negotiation gender difference generalisations: in many societies, we are taught that woman should not allow their emotions to show, especially when negotiating with men. In business emotional displays can hurt. In many socieities a man who raises his voice can be considered a tough guy who has simply lost his cool. Whereas a woman who raises her voice can be seen as someone who cannot control herself. A man who weeps can be viewed with compassion (as long as it does not happen too often) whereas a woman who cries may be branded “overly emotional”. These cultural and gender stereotypes typically take a great deal of time to change. So it’s best to be aware of them, especially when negotiating internationally.

How can this translate in your negotiations? To gain and keep the respect we need to negotiate on an equal basis in business. For their part, woman (and men) can do well to take a break and leave the room before showing heated emotions. Remaining rational at all times during a negotiation is highly prized in business, and thus having your head hold sway over your heart at the negotiation table is the way to keep the respect we deserve and have earned.

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4.6 out of 5 from 11 responses
  • 1
    Cheryl Jamison on

    I found this article to be informative and empowering. I have often allowed men to take the lead instead of standing up for myself and being taken advantage. This article empowers me to stick up for myself in a positive, respectful, and assertive. Both parties in a negotiation should be willing to participate equally.

  • 4
    Alena on

    This was atrocious. What did I learn? I learned that an un-gendered article can switch narrative tones from “dealing with your emotions in negotiations as a human” to “women need to keep their emotions at bay and take a break in the bathroom to cool off so men respect them.” Biases and double standards exist, of course, but this article reinforces those biases and advises women how to play into the game. Men are given no advice on how to acknowledge the same biases nor are they encouraged to change themselves or the system.

    • 5
      Patrick replied to Alena on

      Alena i think you are very wrong, you should study culture and understand how there are different cultural expectations in communication from different genders. he has well stated that in some cultures there are expectations when it comes to displaying emotions in negotiation.

    • 1
      Fabiano Vitor replied to Alena on

      You are wrong in your comment; the author says that it is best to seek how to always keep emotions under control; this wasn’t for a single genre, it was a general tip.

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