Addressing Emotions During Negotiations

Stephanie Brun de Pontet
Stephanie Brun de Pontet

I recently read a short interview of Stuart Diamond, a professor of Negotiations at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania who has also authored “Getting More: How to Negotiate to Achieve your Goals in the Real World” (Crown Business).

While he spoke about seeking solutions that responded to both parties’ needs, avoiding aggressive tactics, and making sure you truly understand the needs of the other party in the negotiation – I was most enthused to hear him dive a little deeper on what kind of understanding he felt was most important.  In fact, he suggested that the best way to start a negotiation is to ‘address emotions first.’  That is particularly good advice in the context of negotiations in a family business, where emotions are often raw and intense.  Diamond underscores something behavioral psychologists have studied for years, that is – the more important a given negotiation is to a person, the more irrational that person may act around the process of making this decision. 

In our work with family businesses, we often find ourselves in situations where the most intelligent and rational business people suddenly appear to be irrational, petulant children when trying to negotiate an emotionally loaded issue.  While a high emotional load on a negotiation can always be difficult, when the response of one of the key players feels very ‘out of character,’ this tends to add a level of confusion and fear in the room, that can often make the negotiation process even less effective.


2 thoughts on “Addressing Emotions During Negotiations”

  1. Definitely agree Ron – getting people to ‘tell a story’ or otherwise describe in their own words what they want to see come out of the process can be a helpful way of getting at their core hopes and desires. I often find this helps people to realize that they have more in common than not! Thanks for your input.

  2. A good way to align people’s emotions and thinking is to get them to describe their desired outcome. In other words, for whatever the issue is that’s being negotiated, have the key participants describe the outcome in terms of how they would like to feel after the deal is done. Then, have them describe what has them concerned in being able to achieve that feeling. If you can help them verbalize their feelings and fears, you have the basis for a negotiation and plan.

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