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How is Your Mood?

PGP Mediation Blog by Phyllis G. Pollack

Two different blog posts on the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School’s website suggests that mood and one’s emotions play an important role in negotiations.  If one  negotiate while in a bad mood, chances are the negotiations will not turn out well. For this reason, we, intuitively, wait until someone is in a good mood before discussing a sensitive or difficult topic with her. But, one of the blog posts notes that this may actually work against us. If a negotiator is aware that the other person  knows that  the negotiator has purposely waited until the other  is in a good mood to discuss something with the other, the negotiator may feel inhibited in her efforts to take advantage of the other’s  good mood.

        As the blog post explains, researchers Eduardo B. Andrade and Teck Ho of the University of California at Berkeley conducted a study in which they divided their participants into pairs, randomly assigning them roles. :

  [They then] asked the “proposers” to divide money between themselves and the “receivers.” Only two divisions were allowed: a “fair” 50-50 division or an “unfair” division – 75% for the proposer and 25% for the receiver. If the receiver said yes, the subjects received the proposed split. If the receiver said no, neither subject received anything.

In a twist on this prototypical “ultimatum game,” Andrade and Ho manipulated the receivers’ moods. They tried to put half in a happy mood, in part by showing them a funny sitcom, and the other half in an angry mood, in part by showing them a disturbing movie clip.

The proposers were told which film clip their receivers had watched. Some of these proposers knew that their receivers were unaware that they had this knowledge; these proposers made significantly more unfair offers to their receivers in the happy condition than to receivers in the angry condition. Other proposers knew that their receivers were aware that they had this knowledge; these proposers did not make unfair offers significantly more often. (Id.)

        What the researchers concluded is that the negotiator feels comfortable negotiating aggressively with another person as long as she believes that the other person is not aware of her “inside knowledge” about the other person’s mood. But, if the negotiator knows that the other person has such “inside knowledge,” then the negotiator will be inhibited from negotiating aggressively.

        To even the playing field, the blog post suggests that one discusses how she is feeling emotionally at the outset of the negotiations to thwart any use of “inside knowledge.”

        The second blog post reaches the same conclusion; discuss how the parties are feeling emotionally at the outset of the negotiation.

        The scenario is a familiar one; we have all rushed to a meeting through terrible traffic or have just gotten into a minor fender bender on the way or have received some bad news et cetera. As a result, we are in a bad mood when we arrive, and the mood has nothing to do with the meeting at hand. Yet, our emotions will hijack our rationality and control the decisions we make if not the outcome of the meeting.

        A study by researchers Norbert Schwarz of the University of Michigan and Gerald Clore of the University of Virginia demonstrated this:

 In a clever study, researchers Norbert Schwarz of the University of Michigan and Gerald Clore of the University of Virginia had half of the participants answer on a sunny day a phone survey about life satisfaction; the other half answered the survey on a rainy day. As you might expect, participants who received calls on a rainy day reported significantly less life satisfaction than did participants who received calls on a sunny day. But when researchers began the call by asking, “By the way, how is the weather down there?” participants in the rainy condition responded as positively as participants in the sunny condition. Acknowledging the bad weather defused its impact on their evaluations.

To recognize and defuse your own incidental emotions, start by identifying your emotional triggers. A nationwide study led by Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman of Princeton University showed that Americans become most distressed when commuting or when talking to their bosses. Could these triggers be affecting your negotiations? Awareness of this possibility will improve your odds of recognizing the effects of such triggers in the heat of the moment.

To recognize and defuse an incidental emotion in your counterpart, remember that her mood may have nothing to do with you. If you suspect that the other side’s feelings are incidental to the negotiation, encourage her to draw a connection to the source of these feelings. Open-ended questions such as “Terrible day out, isn’t it?” or “How was the drive over?” can go a long way toward minimizing the influence of negative emotions on judgments and choices. (Id.)

        … Just something to think about!


Phyllis Pollack

Phyllis Pollack with PGP Mediation uses a facilitative, interest-based approach. Her preferred mediation style is facilitative in the belief that the best and most durable resolutions are those achieved by the parties themselves. The parties generally know the business issues and priorities, personalities and obstacles to a successful resolution as… MORE >

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