Anger is the most common emotion in negotiations. In and of itself, anger is not a problem. It’s what you do with it that matters. You can use anger to disrupt a negotiation or as a catalyst for positive action against injustice.
Because transformative negotiators are grounded, they can’t be uprooted by anger — either their own or others’ — just as they don’t react to triggers, judgments, or emotionally charged words. Anger is a real feeling, and I don’t mean to imply that you shouldn’t experience it fully, if that’s what comes up for you in the moment. But it may not be appropriate or helpful to express it to your negotiation partner. Acting out of anger is rarely effective in getting another person to modify his or her behavior to satisfy your wants or needs. Indeed, when you express anger in a negotiation, you can lose your leverage. You can also lose the trust of your negotiation partner.
Expressing anger can derail a negotiation, especially with negotiation partners in Asia, who believe that hiding (or not showing) emotions is a matter of good negotiating etiquette. Harmony among partners must be maintained at all costs, and your ability to stay calm is linked to your reputation. Causing embarrassment to your partner—for example, by getting angry in front of others — can lead to a loss of face that spells disaster for the negotiations.
Depending on your gender, expressing anger may come naturally. No matter what your gender or ethnicity, however, when strong emotions erupt, communications can break down. As a result, we can get drawn into a vortex if we don’t know how to use anchors to stay rooted, if we don’t have good boundaries, or if we don’t adapt to unexpected developments.
Boundaries are crucial. If you keep the negotiations focused on the parties’ interests, angry energy won’t penetrate, because it’s not personal to you. In effect, you’re holding up a mirror in the negotiation and saying, “This is about you, not me. If you’re feeling anger, work it out on your own time, not here in the negotiation.”
If you’re confronted with your negotiation partner’s anger, neither get caught up in it nor close down in response. Instead, stay open and assume the role of observer. Let your partner’s energy rise and fall with your conscious breath. Adjust your posture; take a time-out, if necessary. Above all, be compassionate. Even when your negotiation partner is being disrespectful, your empathy can help to deflect that energy.
Compassion is the antidote to this great destructive power [cruelty]. Compassion is the strong wish of the mind and heart to alleviate all suffering. It opens our hearts to the suffering that is there, and it overcomes our indifference. It is the strong and deep feeling that is moved to act.
When you stay grounded in the moment, open, and conscious of your boundaries, displaying empathy and compassion for your negotiation partner, anger will not be able to uproot you or the negotiations.
Excerpt from The Transformative Negotiator: Changing How We Come to Agreement from the Inside Out. By Michèle Huff, J.D. UNHOOKED BOOKS.