Defuse Emotional Baggage to Improve Negotiated Results

Researchers from Carnegie Mellon University recently conducted a two-part study on the effects of emotions (e.g. anger, feelings of mistreatment or unfairness, sadness, and disgust) on negotiation outcomes.

The study first analyzed the ramifications of having negative feelings toward the person you are negotiating with (dubbed “integral anger”). That emotions play a part in the negotiation comes as no surprise. However, the fact that integral anger impedes one’s ability to identify one’s own interests in the negotiation is quite surprising.

The study went on to analyze the effects of entering into a negotiation while being upset with someone unrelated to the negotiation (referred to as “incidental anger”). Although the negotiators faced a totally new counterpart on an issue unrelated to the source of their anger, they still had trouble identifying their own interests in the negotiation at hand. The research showed that when negotiators were angry or upset, they incorrectly predicted what they would want in a calmer state (and vice-versa).

Furthermore, anger-induced errors translated directly into dollars. Even in the cases of incidental anger, the negotiators suffered significant financial loss (as compared to the control group).

Surprisingly, the participants were unaware of the effects their emotions had on their negotiations. In fact, the incidentally angry participants were happier with their performances than were the control group – despite earning less money! They were blind to the fact that their emotions had influenced their judgment and decisions.

Similar results were experienced with regard to incidental sadness and incidental disgust.


Some strategies for reducing the influences of “emotional hangovers” on negotiations include:

1. Accountability. Studies have shown that when negotiators are held accountable for the accuracy of their judgments, they are less influenced by their emotions – integral and incidental, alike. Explaining one’s decisions to a colleague or confidant in advance of the negotiation is one strategy for ensuring accountability. Turning to mediator is another.

2. Acknowledging the Source. Identifying the source of incidental emotions defuses the impact that they have on a negotiation. The key to this is knowing one’s “emotional triggers” – the things that elicit particular emotions such as stress, anger, sadness, etc. If you are negotiating a business deal in the wake of discussing your monthly budget with your spouse (which always triggers some stress), then acknowledge to yourself that you are stressed as a direct result of the budget discussion.

3. Take a Breather. As the negative feelings subside, the ability to make sound judgments and decisions return. Therefore, it’s always a good idea to give oneself some time to calm down (after being agitated in some way) before beginning a negotiation.

Whereas many emotions prompt us to make rash decisions and act quickly, it’s important that negotiators manage this tendency and recognize that mood influences one’s ability to do their best negotiating. Understanding this is a big step in optimizing one’s negotiated results.