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Greater Negotiation Flexibility Results in Greater Anger?

Thanks to Anne Reed at Deliberations for “tweeting” (@annereed) the article Flexible Approach To Acute Conflict Results In More Frustration and Anger, Study Shows.

The research subject of the article suggested that having a more flexible approach to resolving an acute conflict interaction results in more frustration and anger.

I’ll need to see the study itself to be convinced.  The study described merely suggests that people offering a greater number of solutions to a party pre-instructed to stonewall will become angrier than those offering fewer solutions, i.e., that those who persist in trying, and failing, to resolve a conflict, get more and more angry and frustrated than those who give up more easily.

This does not suggest to me that “greater negotiation flexibility” necessarily results in a greater degree of anger in the negotiation dyad, but only in the person attempting to resolve a dispute that his partner has been instructed to resist.  Though an apt description of the adversarial process, this is not a fair depiction of persistent attempts to negotiate resolution where the negotiators are given a fighting chance of closing a deal.

As the article explained, study participants were told that a neighbor was playing music too loudly and instructed to ask that it be turned down.

During the interaction, the [participants] followed a script of uncooperative responses such that the task could not be resolved.

“We categorized the verbal responses of participants during the task into seven types of negotiation strategies, including problem-solving and aggressive/threatening. Individuals who used a smaller set of strategies were considered less ‘flexible’ than those who used a greater variety of strategies,” Roubinov said.

The [researchers] . . .  also looked at the intensity of participants’ facial expressions of anger or frustration, and measured participants’ biological response to the task using cortisol, a stress hormone.

“Our results indicated that greater flexibility may not be the healthiest approach,” Roubinov said. “Unlike less-flexible participants, those who tried a greater variety of responses showed more intense facial expressions of anger and frustration. Cortisol levels in more flexible participants also reflected an unhealthier biological response to stress than the less flexible participants.”

Of course persistent participants become increasingly frustrated (and angry!) when their multiple suggestions to resolve a dispute are met with stonewalling from their negotiation partner.  This doesn’t suggest, however, that “greater [negotiation] flexibility” is not healthy.  It suggests that stonewalling leads to anger, one of the reasons that mediators are employed to help all participants in a negotiation generate potential solutions.

I’ll look forward to seeing the study when it’s released but based upon this article, I’d say the conclusion drawn is misleading broad and unduly pessimistic.

                        author

Victoria Pynchon

Attorney-mediator Victoria Pynchon is a panelist with ADR Services, Inc. Ms. Pynchon was awarded her LL.M Degree in Dispute Resolution from the Straus Institute in May of 2006, after 25 years of complex commercial litigation practice, with sub-specialties in intellectual property, securities fraud, antitrust, insurance coverage, consumer class actions and all… MORE >

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