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Kopleman, Shirli
  Shirli Kopelman

Tempering Strategic Tactics with Sincere Intentions

1/30/2007 --

The success or failure of a negotiator's strategic response to emotions displayed by the other side may hinge on the personal quality known as "authentic presence."

ANN ARBOR, Mich.—At the bargaining table, a negotiator may gain an advantage by carefully "reading" the negative or positive emotions displayed by another party and then formulating a strategic response to those emotions that optimizes both relational and economic outcomes.

Although this is true to some degree, Shirli Kopelman of the Stephen M. Ross School of Business suggests too much emphasis may be placed on behavioral response tactics and too little on the personal qualities of the individual employing those tactics.

In her paper, "The Power of Presence: Strategic Response to Displayed Emotions in Negotiations," she argues that the success or failure of a strategic response to displayed emotions hinges on the responding negotiator's "authentic presence," a state of being which communicates the qualities of sincerity, centeredness and empathy.

"To be effective, a negotiator needs to balance the external behaviors and language expressed to the other party while paying attention to his or her own internal state of being," said Kopelman, assistant professor of management and organizations. "It is the quality of authentic presence, whereby strategic tactics are merely a natural expression of the negotiator, which has the effect of deflating negative consequences of the displayed emotions and re-orienting negotiators to the task at hand."

Kopelman and colleagues Ilan Gewurz and Vera Sacharin point out that a negotiator can gain important insights by observing and identifying the emotional display of the other party, who may show anger, disgust, fear, sadness, surprise or happiness.

In reviewing the literature on emotions, they discuss how emotional displays reveal the way in which the other party cognitively processes information, what he or she thinks about the negotiating situation, and what kind of social relationship is likely to develop between negotiators. For example, angry negotiators have a reduced ability to think broadly and to generate a wide range of solution-oriented options, which sometimes may lead to lower joint gains. However, in other situations, displaying anger helps to extract concessions from the responding party.

In contrast, happy negotiators often have greater breadth of thought, creativity, flexibility in ideas and innovative problem-solving, and therefore tend to generate better joint outcomes, they say. Interestingly, happy negotiators also may extract concessions from the responding party by increasing the respondent's willingness to pay.

Emotional display, the researchers say, also provides information about the content of an individual's thinking. Angry negotiators, for instance, are more likely to reject ultimatum offers, use competitive strategies and over-retaliate while happy bargainers are more willing to share information and generally prefer cooperative negotiation strategies.

The expression of positive or negative emotions can impact the social relationship between individuals at the bargaining table, according to Kopelman and colleagues.

"Negotiators unconsciously mimic and synchronize behavioral expressions of emotion, such that a smile will generate a smile in the other party," Kopelman said. "This emotional contagion impacts the rapport between negotiators as well as the likelihood of developing a productive long-term relationship. Good rapport is essential since it predicts mutual cooperation."

Recognizing the importance of emotional display can help a negotiator devise a strategic response that will lead to the best possible relational and economic outcomes, the researchers say. To deal with disruptive negative emotions, for example, a negotiator may opt to allow the other party to vent his or her frustration or may arrange for a "cool down" period during contract negotiations.

Other strategies for counteracting negative emotions include shifting the focus toward non-emotional, interest-based discussion or delving deeper into the negative emotion in hopes the other party will recognize the unproductive consequences and shift his or her behavior accordingly.

"Improving each party's understanding of the other's perspective by enhancing communication and establishing common ground for agreement can help to restore trust and to increase the desirability of innovative options and value-creation opportunities for both parties," Gewurz said.

To deal with positive emotions, which may prompt bargainers to settle too quickly and leave value on the table, a negotiator is advised to ask strategic questions that ensure the process is geared toward value creation rather than conflict avoidance.

"Although these recommendations provide useful insights, they fall short of explaining why such tactics are likely to work in some circumstances but not others," Gewurz said. "We believe the underlying mechanism driving success or failure has as much to do with the responder's state of being as it does with the tactics used. This power of presence may be what enables the successful adoption of these strategic tactics."

Written by Claudia Capos

For more information, contact:
Bernie DeGroat
Phone: (734) 936-1015 or 647-1847