How to Use Feelings to Obtain Better Outcomes in Business Negotiations

In the December 2015 issue of the Harvard Business Review, Author Alison Wood Brooks writes about “Emotion and the Art of Negotiation.”  The Idea in brief is that in business, professional negotiators typically focus on “strategy, tactics, offers and counteroffers,” and don’t pay attention to how emotions, theirs and others, might increase or lessen the results obtained at the bargaining table.

In her article, Ms. Brooks, an Assistant Professor at the Harvard Business School, focuses on recent research that shows how emotions like anxiety, anger and even excitement, can negatively impact the results obtained.  For example, according to one study cited, anxiety is the dominant emotion in many sorts of negotiations, from asking for a higher salary to purchasing a new car.  This anxiety proved to derrive deals that were, on average, 12% less advantageous than similar negotiations without the anxiety.  Other studies addressing other emotions are similarly described, with similar results.

Clearly, if you have something important to negotiate, either for yourself, or on behalf of another, your failure to understand the latent emotional state can have a disastrous impact. One solution proposed in the article for avoiding this potentially disastrous consequence, is to “train, practice, rehearse, and keep sharpening negotiation skills.”

Psychodrama and sociodrama are both excellent methods for training, practicing and rehearing negotiations. Additionally, there are few, if any, better methods for understanding the expressed or repressed emotions by all parties to a negotiation.  Most importantly, these methods make visible what might otherwise remain invisible.

The reason these methods are so powerful in for training and improving negotiation skills is that role reversal is central to both methods. So central in fact that Zerka Morena has said that role reversal is the Sine Qua Non of psychodrama.

According to Peter Felix Kellermann, “[S]trictly speaking, role reversal means precisely what it says: a reversal of roles: a daughter reversing roles with her mother, a husband with his wife, a student with his teacher or a persecutor with his victim. While the (social or ‘sociodramatic’) roles involved in such role reversals are usually complementary and interdependent – one does not exist without the other – they are also opposites that strive for unity. Each side is encouraged to understand the point of view of its own counterpart and to find a peaceful way of co-existence. In reversing roles with, and essentially becoming your opponent in a negotiation, you gain an unequalled understanding and insight into their emotional state.”

In a proposed or ongoing negotiation, role reversal also means the reversal of roles; you step into the role of your negotiating opponent, and in doing so, with the help of a trained psychodrama director,  gain a better understanding of their point of view, thereby gaining insight into a party’s underlying emotional motivators, for the purpose of finding a better, more sustainable solution or resolution.

The idea here is not use this insight and understanding so as to take advantage of the opposing party, but instead to use this insight so as to derive a “win-win” solution, one framed by cooperation and collaboration. This is especially important for negotiations that will take place over time, or will otherwise be ongoing.

Just as Ms. Brooks points out and concludes, the take home message of her research is that not only should you spend time preparing your strategic and tactical moves before a negation, you should also invest time and effort in preparing your emotional approach. If you do, it will be time well spent.