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Weapons of Self-Destruction or Can I Cry Now?

Mark Rizkalla
Advice For Harnessing Emotions In Negotiation

Advice for Harnessing Emotions in Negotiation


Both titles for this blog reflect the traditional view that if we become emotional during a negotiation, we literally “lose the plot” and that it won’t end well.  


Wanting to cry illustrates the truth that as humans we are emotional; that’s inescapable, so skilled negotiators understand emotions and use them to achieve lasting agreements. 


I remember hearing about a scene in an airport lounge where an angry passenger was making threats about their future action to the airline staff member.  


Finally, exasperated, she says: “Mr. Pitt, there only two people in the world who can get you home to your family tonight, and one of them is rapidly losing interest.” 


I don’t know how it ended, but I imagine not well. Rather than gaining an ally in his quest to get home, Mr. Pitt has created indifference to his plight. 


The key advice for negotiators is that they should be emotionally detached, as an emotional commitment to a particular outcome or an intense dislike of a counterparty can be destructive.  


You may find yourself agreeing to a deal you should have walked away from or rejecting a deal that would have beneficial. 


The late Roger Fisher, founder of the Harvard School of Conflict Resolution wrote on this very topic in ‘Beyond Reason: Using Emotions as you Negotiate’. Fisher maintains that we can’t ignore emotions and if we understand the basic human concerns that drive emotions, we can harness them to achieve our objectives. 


I will outline each of the key concerns and provide advice (in italics) as to how the stranded passenger could have used these when negotiating with the airline staff member: 


  • Appreciation. People like to have their efforts acknowledged. It has been a tough day with all this bad weather. Thank you for taking the time to help me. 
  • Affiliation. People like to see themselves as part of a wider group. As a travel professional you must have developed a deep understanding of these complex rules. 
  • Autonomy. To be in control of the decision making. I trust you to decide on the best course of action to help me get home. 
  • Status. People desire having their status acknowledged and respected. You have the skills and power to make this work for me. 
  • Role. People desire having a fulfilling and important position. You are the only person who can help me celebrate my baby’s birthday party. 


When negotiating, our advice is that a working knowledge of these key concerns provides a far greater chance of achieving what you want than desperate threats or floods of tears. 

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