New research overturns the traditional advice that one should remain cool and calculated during a negotiation.
Graduate student Bo Shao of the University of New South Wales in Australia found that trying to suppress anger about important points related to the negotiations could, in fact, cause a person to lose focus.
Although much is known about the impact of how anger is experienced and expressed in negotiations, the effect of suppressing heated emotions has not received extensive study.
Shao and his fellow researchers therefore examined how and when anger suppression affects negotiators’ mental states and indirectly also their performance.
The study is also one of the first to consider the role that the source of anger plays in negotiations.
Researchers acknowledged that given the growing popularity of e-commerce and virtual teams in the economy, computer-mediated negotiations are becoming more common to resolve conflicting interests.
Therefore, 204 undergraduate students from a university in the U.S. were enrolled to participate in an online negotiation experiment. The intervention lasted 20 minutes and participants filled out a questionnaire afterwards.
In the part of the experiment that tested the influence of an anger source, nearly half of the participants were made to feel heated emotions unrelated or incidental to the negotiation. This was done by showing them a video clip of a bully in action.
To test the influence of anger that is related to the issue at hand, the person with whom the participants negotiated online was intentionally provocative throughout the negotiations. This included using tactics such as telling the other side what to do, labeling their behaviors negatively, making accusations of intentional violations, and blaming the other.
Researchers discovered negotiators did not become mentally exhausted when they tried to subdue their anger. Instead, they lost focus on the matters at hand if they tried to suppress their feelings about issues that were integral to the discussions.
The same did not happen if the negotiators bottled up their infuriation about an incidental matter. Researchers believe this shows that the source of emotions can play an important role in regulating feelings.
“These findings cast doubts on the belief that negotiators should always suppress their anger,” said Shao. “To be effective, negotiators should be aware when it is detrimental or not to do so, and adopt strategies that help them maintain their focus.”