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Want to Be a Better Negotiator? Get Emotional

Want to Be a Better Negotiator? Get Emotional
Credit: RawPixel/Shutterstock

Taking a cutthroat approach isn't always the best way to get what you want when negotiating, new research finds.

Bringing emotion into negotiations often elicits compassion from the other party, making that person more likely to develop sympathy and, in turn, more willing to compromise and find creative solutions, finds a study set to be published in the journal Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes.

"Sympathy is an emotion that corresponds with good will," Laura Kray, one of the study's authors and a professor at the University of California, Berkeley's Haas School of Business, said in a statement. "In negotiations, it can translate into a willingness to problem-solve in ways that might not otherwise occur."

The researchers discovered that this approach is more effective when instigated by the negotiator in the weaker position. They found that negotiators in the stronger position who tried to gain sympathy often came across as manipulative.

For the study, researchers randomly assigned 106 MBA students to negotiating teams to play out various scenarios. One scenario involved a disagreement between a building contractor and a real estate developer over payment. In the scenario, after originally approving a decision to use higher-quality materials, the developer decided to sell the property and didn't believe those materials were worth paying for.

When negotiating how to settle the two parties' differences, the contractor explained that not being compensated for using the higher-quality materials could force him into bankruptcy. [A Surprising Negotiation Tactic That Works ]

After this emotional plea, both parties were more willing to work out an amicable agreement to split the additional cost of the materials than they were prior to those pleas. While the researchers did not analyze the reasons behind each developer's response, they said the outcome suggests the contractor's statements may have triggered sympathy.

In another experiment, the study's authors analyzed the use of sympathy-eliciting appeals and compared the effectiveness of those appeals to rational arguments and to sharing information that benefits both parties. The researchers discovered that when the weaker party appealed to the stronger party, shared his or her vulnerabilities and proposed solutions that would also benefit the stronger party, the latter felt sympathy and was more motivated to help.

"Our findings reveal an optimistic message," Kray said. "Even when people are in powerful positions, situations in which cold-hearted, rational actors might be expected to behave opportunistically, we are finding instead that their feelings of sympathy motivate them to help the disadvantaged."

The study was co-authored by Aiwa Shirako, a people analyst at Google, and Gavin Kilduff, an assistant professor at New York University's Stern School of Business.

Chad Brooks

Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based writer with more than 20 years of media experience. A graduate of Indiana University, Chad began his career with Business News Daily in 2011 as a freelance writer. In 2014, he joined the staff as a senior writer. Currently, Chad covers a wide range of B2B products and services, including business phone systems, time and attendance systems, payroll services, and conference call services. Before joining Business News Daily and business.com, Chad spent nearly a decade as a staff reporter for the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago. Chad's first book, "How to Start a Home-Based App Development Business," was published in 2014. He lives with his wife and daughter in the Chicago suburbs.