Find Mediators Near You:

Pass The Vinegar, Honey! The Effect Of Anger On Others During Negotiations

From the Mediation Matters Blog of Steve Mehta.

 You often hear that you get more with honey than you do with vinegar.  However, a study has tested that proverb with surprising results.

 Summary of Study

 In the January, 2004 edition of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, they studied the effect on anger and happiness in negotiations.  The study entitled “The Interpersonal Effects of Anger and Happiness in Negotiations” came to some very interesting conclusions.  The study had two experiments.  In the first experiment, participants engaged in computer mediated negotiations in which they couldn’t see their opponents.  One group was secretly told that the other side was either angry or happy.  However, in reality the participants were actually negotiating against a computer that had pre-programmed responses.  When the participants were told that the negotiator on the other side was angry, the participants didn’t bargain as hard as when they were told nothing or that the other side was supposed to be happy.

In the second experiment, the participants were told the same information about the state of mind of the opponent.  This time, the opponent also provided expressions during the negotiation of either anger or happiness.  The study found that again, when participants believed the opponent to be angry, they negotiated less aggressively.  However, when participants believed the stated expressions of anger to be disingenuous, the participants deemed the anger as merely an attempt to bluff.  However, when the opponents were identified as being consistently angry and demonstrated anger during the negotiation, the participants responded with hardball tactics of their own.


This study has several ramifications to everyday negotiations:

  • When you encounter a negotiator that you truly believe is angry with the deal or the process, fight back the urge to try and appease that person’s anger by giving an extra concession.  That person’s anger, either wittingly or unwittingly, is a tool that can be used to deteriorate your bargaining position. Instead, make attempts to let them know that you understand that they are angry and that you are working on a solution, but that not only does expressions of anger not help the resolution, but also that you want to avoid their anger causing the already tense situation to escalate into something that both sides may not be able to stop.
  • If you are angry about a situation and wish to express that anger, don’t make outward statements that reflect your anger.  Instead, your better choice is to let your actions communicate the message.  Studies have shown that most of human communication is on a non-verbal level.  One study concluded that only 7 % of communication is done verbally.  In addition, by outwardly stating that you are angry, you may inadvertently escalate the dispute because the other side may react similarly.  Finally, you could potentially mislead the other side into believing that you are bluffing.  Studies show that when people are lying about their emotional state, they tend to over-exaggerate their reaction.  This is sub-consciously done to mask the true state of mind. 
  • Beware of trying to act as if you are angry.  By acting angry in an attempt to bluff, you may invoke a hostile response and your strategy to create concessions could backfire.  Research shows that people will likely reciprocate the anger and hostility and further add flame to the fire.  In addition, one of the most important traits that a negotiator possesses is his or her credibility.  By creating a false show of anger, you could also be jeopardizing your credibility for future negotiations.  Finally, The other side may dig in deeper to ensure that it is not getting the short of end of the negotiating stick. 

This research is consistent with the recent study of anger that I reported on in a prior post entitled Negotiating Games — Using Anger in Mediation, A Researched Analysis 

Anger can be used as an effective  tool in negotiating only if it is real.  If you believe that it is appropriate to show your anger in a negotiation, then you should take care to not overtly state your anger, but instead let the opponent see the anger through indirect means.  However, if you use anger as a ploy to gain tactical advantages, it can easily backfire into escalating the conflict.  Overall,  whenever you get the urge to throttle someone in a negotiation, step back for a moment and consider whether it is truly necessary to demonstrate your anger or whether the venting of your anger, although initially fulfilling, may do more harm than good.


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 >

Featured Members

View all

Read these next


An Emerging Structure of ADR in Mass Torts and MDLs

JAMS ADR Blog by Chris PooleThe official statistics provided by the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation in recent years count Products Liability as nearly one quarter of all pending multidistrict...

By Chris Poole

How to Leverage Technology to Build Your Practice

If you’re a mediator or other ADR professional who’s just starting out, you probably want to know how to build, promote and manage your practice as effectively as possible. If...

By Tammy Lenski

Yet Another Path To Attorney Malpractice In Mediation Proceedings: Coerce Your Own Client

Because the vast majority of my litigation and mediation clients were and are corporate entities or highly successful entrepreneurs, executives or managers, I was and am rarely in a position...

By Victoria Pynchon