BNP 5: Managing Emotions as You Negotiate

What You'll Learn
  • You must manage people's emotional reactions
  • Nurture a positive environment
  • Manage your emotions
  • Manage their emotions
  • Heated emotions are most common in the bargaining stage
  • Emotions can be helpful
  • Don't focus on the emotions themselves
  • Focus on the cause of the emotions
  • Create positive emotions
  • You cannot calm another person down

You can prepare thoroughly, be great with the Negotiator's Probe, sort out interests and positions, and develop a winning strategy, but it won't be enough. In collaborative negotiations, you can't just manage information and processes.

You must manage the emotional reactions of people.

Three Areas of Emotion Management

  1. Nurture a Positive Environment
  2. Manage Your Emotions
  3. Manage Their Emotions

Nurture a Positive Environment

Throughout the negotiating process you want positive energy to fill the space – the space your team brainstorms and analyzes data in, the space where you build rapport, and especially the space used for bargaining.

Throughout the negotiating process you will work on maintaining a positive environment. How do you do that?

Do's (generate helpful emotions) Don'ts (generate unproductive emotions)
  • Use greetings and closings that show friendliness, warmth, earnestness
  • Build relevant and not so relevant connections and affiliations
  • Negotiate the position, not the person
  • Encourage ideas
  • Remain calm when under attack
  • Acknowledge the other side’s concerns
  • Use body language showing openness
  • Express appreciation often
  • Massage ego: status, autonomy, success
  • Take and recommend breaks
  • Smile whenever it is fitting
  • In the extreme, change the people
  • Raise your voice
  • Become emotional
  • Allow discussions to deteriorate
  • Lose your temper
  • Try to calm the other person down
  • Be patronizing or condescending
  • Use sarcasm
  • Withdraw and become passive aggressive
  • Roll your eyes or use other body language that shuts down conversation
  • Send off emails without thinking
  • Stop responding or listening
  • Call a caucus too early

Managing Emotions – Yours and Theirs

Where do emotions come from? The heart or the brain?

It may feel like your heart is beating faster and your blood is pumping stronger, but the culprit here is the brain. Emotional situations are common in interpersonal relationships, and certainly in negotiating. As you might guess, heated emotions are most common in the Bargaining Stage, although of course they can occur at other times. The following examples illustrate the ways events can exacerbate emotions in each stage of negotiations.

Your Role How would you feel if...
You’re a buyer in the Preparation Stage. You learned that as a long-time customer you have not received the discount prices given to less loyal new customers?
You’re a seller in the Exchange Stage. You received an RFP (request for proposal) after being the sole supplier of this customer for 10 years?
You’re a project manager in the Bargaining Stage. You discovered the other team was given more resources than you to get the same size project completed?
You’re a manager in the Conclude Stage You heard that the supervisor to whom you just offered a promotion told colleagues about his new salary?
  • Don't confuse a Crunch with real emotion. A Crunch is a tactic used to react to a proposal without offering anything in return, such as rolling eyes or laughter, in the hopes that you will counter your own offer. You can Counter-Crunch a tactic of feigned emotions, but you must manage real emotions.

Emotions can be Helpful

Emotions are a natural part of interpersonal relations, and certainly play a role in negotiations. Don't try to eliminate emotions. The object in negotiations is to maximize positive, helpful emotions and minimize negative emotions.

There are hundreds of emotions. Key to managing emotions – yours and theirs – is to not focus on the emotions themselves. Focus on the cause of the emotional outburst and on creating positive emotions. If you understand what happens in your body when you have severe emotional reactions, like excitement, anger and disappointment, you will better be able to recognize the signs of severe emotional reaction and be poised to diffuse it.


  • Understand Emotions
  • Senses
  • Creativity
  • Win/Win

The Limbic (Reptilian) Brain stem

  • Fight/Flight
  • Instant reaction
  • Win/Lose
  • When you are right you can afford to keep your temper. When you are wrong, you can't afford to lose it.

Reactive Phases of Problem Acceptance

Managing Your Emotions

None of us is immune to feelings of anger, disappointment, surprise, anxiety -- pile on work stress, sleepless nights, and worries about the future. Let's face it; we don't always react the way we wish we had.

We're responsible for our own behavior. You can blame the other side for causing your reaction, but ultimately you have to take responsibility for it. The same strategies we are taught in classes on stress and anger management and grief counseling apply here.

Try these measures to manage your emotions in a negotiating situation of escalating intensity:

  • Breathe deeply. Change your internal physiology by filling your abdomen with air. Breathing deeply changes your muscle memory, and enables the neo-cortex of your brain to take over, allowing you to think positively and creatively.
  • Positive self-talk. Aim for perspective. Tell yourself quickly that this will all work out. Say things to you like, "I've been in a worse spot and turned things around." This positive self-talk will stimulate your neo-cortex and allow for rational and creative thought to return.

  • Don't get yourself in an overly positive mood when you need to focus on detail. In that situation you want to feel neutral so you can process and assess data objectively.

  • Walk around. Change your external physiology. Directing your muscles to do something different can help you to direct your thoughts in a new direction as well.

  • Not everyone can pull off walking around in a heated moment. Try getting up and look out the window, check the room thermometer, or go to the rest room. It will seem unnatural to you and others in the room for you to do this at a heated emotional point, but it will still help.

  • Divert your focus. Take a moment to force thoughts of a pleasant distraction. Imagine a beautiful place, an enjoyable evening you had, or your favorite song.
  • Ask yourself helpful questions. When you ask yourself productive and positive questions, your neo-cortex is stimulated to think rationally and creatively.

Don’t ask yourself unproductive questions:
“Why does this always happen to me?”
“How could I have missed that?”
“What was I thinking?”

Do ask yourself productive questions:
“How can I improve things?”
“What would it take to find a different result?”
“Why was I picked to reach this agreement?”

Managing Their Emotions

Have you ever said this: "I'll work on my emotions, but I can't be expected to control the other side's emotions!" True, but you can have an impact. It's risky business, but the payoff is high.

You cannot calm another person down. Their thoughts got them angry. Only their thoughts can calm them down. Your role is to try to influence their thoughts. Try these strategies:

  • Recognize the signs. Be on the lookout for a flight/fight syndrome – and the adrenaline rush that occurs when someone feels under attack. If you don't do something to correct the situation, the person is likely to

    Fight – engage in win/lose negotiating
    Flight – avoid negotiating

    This is not as easy as it sounds. The signs of flight or fight can be subtle. Look for changes in voice and skin color, unusual silence, uncooperativeness, louder breathing, etc.

  • Listen and Ask . Let them vent. Don't suggest solutions at this point. Ask questions. Invite more venting: "Tell me more about that" Move from listening to asking when you ask a question and they calmly respond. If you ask a question and they get very emotional, return to your listening mode and try asking questions again after they have had more time to vent.
  • Take a break. Breaks can be for a few minutes or for weeks, depending on how far things have deteriorated. And you should always take a break after an emotional situation has been diffused as it is exhausting for everyone involved.

  • Taking a break in the middle of a heated emotional outburst is awkward at best; at worst, it may backfire. Unless they have started to calm down, they are likely to go off and make a battle plan. Breaks work best when you see the other side is struggling to manage their own emotions and you sense an opening of calm.

  • Change the negotiators. This is usually a last resort to rescue the chances for a negotiated agreement. If you have to do it, change both negotiators to save face and preserve the relationship.

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