Khrushchev holding his shoe

IS IT GOOD TO LET IT RIP?On anger in negotiations

– By Dr Franziska Frank, Associate Trainer, Rational Games –

In many negotiations, there comes a time when emotions flare up, where people start shouting at each other or stomp out of the room as Donald Trump used to love doing as a real estate tycoon (and still does?). But the feeling is that this sort of anger is misplaced and will do more harm than good.

Research has been trying to shed light on whether this general condemnation of anger is correct and has found some useful answers I would like to share. If you truly feel anger and then try and suppress it, this process alone will take up a lot of your mental resources. And this will make mistakes more likely. Simply because you can no longer truly focus on what is going on. Would it then not be better to express your anger instead of bottling it up inside? That depends. On what? Firstly, on the position you are in.

If you are in a low power position – i.e. the other side seems to hold more of the cards, you have a weak BATNA or have messed up your preparation – then forget about showing your fury. It will only weaken your position further, making the other party feel even more superior and inclined to use their position of power to their advantage.

What to do then with your adrenaline racing through your body? Best plan for these chemical reactions before the negotiation even starts and claim to be a mad smoker or coffee drinker who needs a five-minute break every half hour. You should be able to contain your anger with little cost until the next break and use the breathing space then to get back into balance. If you have not planned this far in advance then make up a quick cover story or a cough or whatever to get you out of the room quickly – yet please without the other side realizing your emotional state.

If you are in a high-power position, expressing anger can be a true source of power. However, only in some circumstances. Which ones? When you are actually angry at the situation alone and not at the person. Shouting at the other negotiator as a person (“You twerp, why do you not understand!” or “You really have no clue, do you?”) is always a mistake and will lead to open or covert retaliation.

But if you are angry at the situation and make clear that your needs have not been truly understood (“Damn it, there is no way my client can work with delivery only in four weeks’ time” or “No chance that I will sign this damned agreement – the price is way beyond market value”), the other side will tend indeed think, that they have not grasped the situation fully and will be more willing to give in on numerous points.

Research also shows that intimidating anger that is only play-acted will also often serve you well by frightening the other sides into submission. But ethically that is not a good solution, however fine the result. In addition, it will tend to give you a bad name and future negotiators will come in brazed against any play attacks.

So, use your anger wisely and keep Eleanor Roosevelt’s saying in mind: “Anger is one letter short of danger.” Make sure to keep it just that one letter short!