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January 25, 2012

Using Emotions to be a Better Negotiator

by Katie

For many people, figuring out how to handle emotions is the most difficult part of negotiating.  I often get people asking me how they can “turn off” their emotions when in conflict. There are also folks who complain that the other side is unreasonable because they are “too emotional.”

If you are one of the people struggling to get rid of emotions in negotiation, I have one thing to say:

Cut it the heck out.

Emotions, especially during conflict, are a part of life.  You can’t stop them, ignore them or get rid of them and still have a productive human experience.

Emotions aren’t signs that a person is irrational because everyone’s behavior is influenced by their emotions, even the rational sophisticated types.

(c) Paramount Pictures

Rather than figure out how to negotiate without emotions, figure out how to work with emotions.

Negotiation experts Roger Fisher and Daniel Shapiro believe that the emotions that come into play during a conflict are related to five core concerns humans have about their place in the larger world.  If one of these core concerns is being threatened, taken for granted or demanded, we will have an emotional reaction.

The five core concerns are:

Appreciation — how our contributions are valued by others

Affiliation — the degree to which we are accepted by others

Autonomy — our freedom to make decisions that impact us

Status — the degree to which we are respected within the group

Role — the manner in which we are expected, by ourselves and others, to contribute to a particular situation.

Now, because we’re talking emotions and not geometric proofs, these concerns are rarely perfectly distinct.  They can bleed into or trigger one another, and on really special occasions, both can happen.

When our concerns are met, things are dandy.  We might not be skipping rope and beaming sunshine 24/7, but there is equilibrium.  When our concerns aren’t met because we wither have too much or not enough of any one of them: Melt Down City.

by beigeinside via Flickr.com

Making it all the more challenging, rarely do we announce our frustration to the other by saying, “I feel overwhelmed by my role in this and am disappointed by the lack of affiliation and appreciation I’m being given.”

No.  We more often go for the more succinct but opaque, “You’re a frakking jerkface; shut-up!”

Conflict escalates when we don’t understand what the other side is interested in.  This lack of understanding can come from simple miscommunication or from misinterpretation of the other’s emotions.

Maybe he’s angry because you didn’t ask him to join the group for lunch.

Maybe she is excited about the extra responsibility this role gives her but it also worried about proving that she deserves it.

Maybe you don’t really want them to throw in 10 extra author copies of the book; maybe you just need them to say, “Thank you for meeting the new deadline that you totally didn’t have to meet but were a rock star and did anyway.”

Understanding what drives our emotions helps us better respond to people when they have them, and it allows us to better articulate what we need to others.

Fisher & Shapiro’s book is Beyond Reason: Using Emotions as You Negotiate and they dedicate a chapter to each of the core concerns, providing helpful suggestions for recognizing and addressing the concerns as they crop up.  If you struggle with emotions and negotiating at all, either your own or other people’s, the book is worth a read.

Flex your emotional intelligence by doing something difficult: use emotions to solve conflicts instead of create them.

Featured image by _gee_ via Flickr.com.

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