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Negotiating Games — Using Anger In Mediation, A Researched Analysis

From the Mediation Matters Blog of Steve Mehta.

In mediation, it is often common for parties to use a anger or emotions strategically. In fact, many people will intentionally have an emotional outburst in an attempt to try to strategically alter the other side’s position. Some may say that using such emotions is a long time strategy going back towards ancient days.  But can exaggerating emotions  backfire?

Researchers Eduardo B. Andrade and Teck-Hua Ho (University of California, Berkeley) evaluated whether exaggerated sense of anger or “emotion gaming” affected the outcome of the negotiation.  “Emotion gaming” is the strategically altering the overt expression of emotion in order to convince or persuade the other person to act according to your desires.  An example of “emotion gaming” would be exaggerating anger while negotiating during mediation.

The researchers developed several experiments to test “emotion gaming.” In one experiment, the Dictator Game, a “proposer” was given money to be split with the “receiver.” The proposers were told to make unfair offers, which the receivers had to accept. The Dictator Game’s purpose was to manipulate anger.

Half of the receivers were told that their last anger report would be shown to proposers before proposers made offers. The results showed that receivers intentionally inflated  their levels of anger when they knew that proposers would see their anger display before deciding on an offer. The receivers admitted to inflating anger levels to manipulate the proposer. The study found that when proposers knew of the receivers’ anger levels with regards to the unfair offer, they increased their offers to the receiver.

In another part of the experiment, the proposers were informed that the receivers knew that their anger levels were going to be communicated to the other side. In those experiments, the proposers did not change their offers when they believed that the receivers display of anger was not genuine. 

The authors concluded that “Receivers do get a better offer from proposers as long as proposers have reason to believe that their partners’ feelings are genuine. When proposers learn that receivers might be inflating anger, the impact of emotion gaming on proposers” goes away.

Applying the Research

This research confirms what many of us have already known: that people game emotions to gain advantages in negotiations.  As a result, when you are negotiating, you need to be aware whether the emotion is a real display of anger or an artificially inflated display of anger.

It is also important not to instantly react to the display of anger but to ask questions about why they feel the way they do. Questions will help you to evaluate the true nature of the anger or to determine whether or not you’re being “gamed.”

Third, people react to anger because they feel that the other person will be volatile, unpredictable or will not adhere to norms in the interaction.  Ask yourself what you have to be afraid of or worry about.  So what if the other person is demonstrating anger!  The question is what effect that anger will have on you.  Just as with a person who demonstrates a tantrum, you can either give in to the tantrum or hold fast. 

Finally, it is important to understand that although strategic uses of anger can have a short term effect, it may not help in the long run.  As noted in the study, once the people making offers were aware that they might be “gamed,” they did not change their offers.  So if the bout of anger works the first time, it probably won’t work the second time.


Eduardo B. Andrade and Teck-Hua Ho. Gaming Emotions in Social Interactions. Journal of Consumer Research, online April 10, 2009; In Print December 2009


Steve Mehta

Steven G. Mehta is an attorney and mediator providing unique mediation services in a variety of types of civil litigation. His ability to understand the human process and complex emotional issues involved in legal negotiations enables him to effectively assist the parties in obtaining the best possible results during mediation.… MORE >

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