The Role of Emotions in Effective Negotiations

The Role of Emotions in Effective Negotiations Illustration by Maria Fonseca

One of the mainstays of effective business people is the ability to be able to negotiate. Being able to make deals that are appealing for both sides is challenging, but must be achieved. This is true not just of business but also of our personal lives. We continually need to be able to negotiate to be able to get what we want and need from others. Research shows that emotions have a part to play in effective negotiations. On this subject, and writing for the Harvard Business School blog, Michael Blanding (2014) outlines the work of an HBS lecturer, Andy Wasynczuk who has an outstanding understanding of this subject matter.

Andy Wasynczuk reports that emotions can have a significant impact on the negotiations that take place between parties to come to a transaction or agreement or compromise about what is reasonable. Indeed, Wasynczuk argues that emotions have a pivotal role to play, stating that,

 “I can’t imagine a good negotiator who doesn’t have either an explicit understanding about emotions or is highly intuitive about the process”.

According to Blanding, the experience that Wasynczuk bases his knowledge and understanding of emotions in the negotiation process comes from 15 years of serving as the chief operating officer for the New England Patriots. In this role he had to negotiate difficult player contracts that were worth millions of dollars. Football players get passionate about their contracts. Wasynczuk had to have the skills to be able to avoid driving a player or agent to become angry. Blanding explains how Wasynczuk countered this by going into contract talks with a smile on his face, and coming up with rational thinking for when contracts did not work out. Blanding reports that Wasynczuk would tell himself that if a player or agent was being greedy it was likely they were not just displaying this behaviour with him but also with other teams, and to make the deal would probably be an error in this case.

Emotions are an integral part of negotiations according to Wasynczuk because people have an innate sense of whether something is fair or not in their mind. This drives emotions in the negotiating arena. In particular it is explained that anger is a particularly destructive emotion in so far as negotiations are concerned. Sometimes anger will lead people to walk away from deals that may be worthwhile. However, it is also explained that anger can be used in a more positive way that shows “passion and conviction”. This can lead to a negotiation heading the right way. However, the anger must be channelled effectively. Wasynczuk explains that the anger has to be focused on the issue or circumstances and not at the person that is being negotiated with.

It is also argued that a positive attitude can be very helpful in driving better outcomes when negotiating. This is explained to be helpful because trust can be built up. In turn this can encourage information sharing and a greater level of transparency about what each side wants that can lead to a better deal being done for both sides. However, again there is a flip side. Wasynczuk describes how anger is not without its dangers. The problem with people that are happy going into negotiations is that they may have a tendency to accept less than they otherwise might. It is never a good idea to settle for something that is simply OK when something better can be achieved to the benefit of both sides.

Ultimately Blanding explains that Wasynczuk states that it is essential to be aware of the existence of the emotions when negotiating. When an understanding is gained of what those emotions are they can then be utilised to achieve success. For example, positive emotions can help the deal to move forward in a beneficial way for both parties, and it can also help to temper the more negative emotions that can ruin a good deal. Ultimately these concepts are grounded in emotional intelligence, since this is all about understanding what your emotions are and using them effectively to achieve excellent results. Wasynczuk concludes that without any emotions it would be hard to close a deal as well, since emotions are clues that help people to process information and understand each other.

Additional resource: Animation done by  that reviews the main principles of effective negotiations.