What I learned at Harvard #4: The Emotional Dimension of Negotiations

Written by Suze, November 02nd, 2017

The most common cause for a negotiation to fail is negative emotions. As paid negotiators, we have a responsibility to successfully manage the emotions of all stakeholders in the transaction, including our own.  People often say, “Don’t get emotional’ but that’s not possible. Emotions are always present and they are complicated.

Daniel Shapiro, Ph.D. is the director of the Harvard International Negotiation Program and the author of several best-selling books on the emotional side of negotiations. He has developed a practical framework to better address the emotional dimension of negotiation. His premise is that there are two negotiation goals – one is the substance of the negotiations and the other is the relationship of the parties negotiating.  Good relationships predict a better outcome but more importantly, a bad relationship almost always ensures a failed transaction.

The first step to managing emotions in a negotiation is to be aware of what you are feeling, what the other party is feeling, and what is causing those emotions. This awareness gives us the choice to respond to them rationally rather than react without control. Dr. Shapiro’s framework asks us to turn this awareness to the Five “Core Concerns Framework” that he has developed. The purpose of this framework is to create a colleague out of our negotiation counterpart rather an adversary. The five core concerns ensure that basic needs are met to stimulate positive emotions.

The five Core Concerns are: Appreciation, Autonomy, Affiliation, Role and Status.

Let’s take a look at each and how it could affect a real estate negotiation.

Appreciation: Listen. Find Merit. Show it.

If we feel unappreciated, we feel not understood, devalued and unheard. Negative emotions of anger, regret and even sadness will ensue.  If the other agent in a real estate transactions discredits our ideas, dismisses our interests and talks over us consistently, negative emotions are likely to develop that will derail any chance of a successful negotiation.

Dr. Shapiro goes on to share the three elements to appreciate someone.  1. Understand their point of view (empathy), 2. Find merit in what they think, feel or do (non-judgement), and 3. communicate your understanding (acknowledgement).

Empathy is at the heart of successful negotiations and interestingly, it is not related to compassion or caring.  It is about being able to see the world from their perspective.  Tricky but important. This blog post on empathy is worth a read.

To show another agent that you appreciate them during an offer negotiation you would ask questions to understand their point of view,  listen carefully to their responses, you may let them know that their ideas are valuable and you would take care to communicate these positive feelings towards them either directly or indirectly.  Building trust and respect into the relationship always have a positive influence on the outcome of the negotiations.

Autonomy: Always consult before deciding

Autonomy is the freedom to make decisions without imposition from others. We become highly emotional when someone imposes on our freedom.   Imagine that you are in a challenging negotiation with another agent and she takes your offer and begins scratching out clauses that are important to your buyers without any communication or consultation.  She then goes on to tell you to go to your buyers right now and get their initials on the offer.  Are you likely to be emotionally put off?  And what effect will that have on the outcome of the negotiations?

Respecting autonomy in negotiations is important.  In the above case, the agent could have said that the clauses would not work for her clients and then inquired as to what changes to those clauses could be made to satisfy the needs of both parties.  Creating some choice around the urgency of the buyer’s response to the offer would also go a long way towards a successful outcome.  “I’m sorry that the time lines are short –  would you be able to get this back to your buyers within the next half hour?” creates at least the illusion of autonomy and smooths the way for a positive outcome.

Affiliation:  Look for ways to connect.  Face the problem together.

Affiliation is the connection that we have to another person. Done well, building affiliation can turn an adversary into a colleague and create the relationship necessary to work side by side to negotiation a favourable outcome.

A lack of affiliation effects the interior cingulate cortex which is also the part of the brain affected by rejection.  This will often cause the affected party to shut down and no longer be present for the negotiation.  With no communication, a successful outcome is not possible.

When we invite the other agent into a collaborative negotiation process that makes them feel valued and included, we unleash their problem solving capabilities, their willingness to communicate their needs and interests both of which are crucial to a successful negotiation.

Status: Respect their experience and expertise

If you make someone feel that their standing either socially or professionally is inferior to yours, you are going to create a difficult negotiation environment.  There are many dimensions to status including physical, emotional, intellectual and situational.  Status is about power and while the temptation to create artificial status by manipulating the situation is often strong, it can have a very negative effect on the outcome of the negotiations.  Respecting status and allowing all parties to be equal in authority is an excellent strategy to create remarkable outcomes in your negotiations.

Role:  Ask for their advice

Often negotiation counterparts play pre-established roles. One agent could show up as the problem solver or the relationship person. Perhaps another agent likes to come across as the devil’s advocate or the naysayer as a means to shift the negotiation power.

To increase the chances of a successful negotiation, Dr. Shapiro recommends that we shape our role and theirs to create the best environment for problem solving and collaborative negotiations.  You might ask for advice from your counterpart indicating that you see a nuanced picture of their of their expertise and the roles they can play, or you could acknowledge their track record and invite them to use this vast experience to help come up with creative solutions.  If they are being pessimistic, you might ask, “How else can we see this?”  Often when we invite someone to play a different and more valuable role, they will.

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