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The E-Force: The Power of Emotion in Negotiation


Nellie McCracken
Nellie McCracken, Managing Director, N.R.I. (Negotiation Resource International) A Division of PMMS Consulting Group Inc., Toronto, Ontario, Canada M9C 5K6, 416-760-9160,

84th Annual International Conference Proceedings - 1999 

Negotiation is a process that in spite of it's competitive nature requires a cooperative means of communication for it's success. It is a process that has as much to do with feelings as it does facts and goes well beyond business, product or market knowledge. The use of emotion in a negotiation is a powerful means of affecting the person to achieve the performance. In almost every aspect of the buyer-seller interface there is some form of negotiation. Success will go to those who can understand what it takes; it's components, its perceptions, it's idiosyncrasies and its strategies, as both an awareness and a learned skill.

Negotiating Criteria. A skilled and effective negotiator practices a number of core competencies associated with each of the phases of negotiation.

  • Preparation and Planning: Setting a spectrum of objectives, (ideal, realistic and fallback) to accommodate movement is essential. These objectives must be relative to the overall aim of the negotiation. Establishing your position includes considering who you are negotiating with (needs and values), what you are negotiating about (facts and content) and how you are going to negotiate (strategies for movement).

  • Opening: Taking control of the negotiation right from the start requires building rapport very quickly in a warm and friendly manner. The smile is a simple nonverbal method of doing just that. Avoid placing early markers and look to take a high but credible opening posture.

  • Testing: This phase requires asking open questions in abundance in order to test the assumptions of the other side. Listening actively is essential in showing real interest in the other person and their needs. It is at this stage that information is sought to support and confirm the strategies for movement and condition the expectations of the other side.

  • Moving: Persuading the other side to move will require employing all five of the movement generators as and when appropriate. Emotion, logic and the use of threat are communication methods that will elicit one way movement at no cost. Bargaining and compromise, although most common are two way movements that will cost both parties.

  • Agreeing: The skilled and effective negotiator knows how and when to close the negotiation. Understanding and using the power of silence and summaries will maximize the advantage. Spotting the closing signals is key.

Communication is the single most imperative element of negotiation and yet the one most taken for granted. Being well prepared by virtue of gathering all the necessary information to establish your position is only the start. People negotiate, not corporations and people are as much the barrier to negotiating as are the objectives. The challenge is to compete at persuading the other side to see your side.

People buy a feeling. If we can begin by understanding what might motivate that feeling we then have the start of the negotiating strategy. How well the preparation is executed will rely heavily on whether the needs of the other side have been considered and incorporated. The business or hard needs may seem evident and can be readily tested with pre-negotiation research or by asking questions during the negotiation process. The personal or soft needs however, are less evident and yet have the most impact on the negotiation outcome.

Appealing to and satisfying people's needs is the essence to moving them within a negotiation. Maslow's hierarchy of needs are not pushed to one side once business is at hand. In fact, addressing the fundamental needs of survival, security, affiliation, ego and self-actualization is an excellent beginning to the development of a persuasion strategy. Questions, concerns, issues and wants can then be communicated such that a feeling can be aroused which will influence a move during the negotiation.

The concept of using emotion in a negotiation can make many a business person very uneasy. Logic is the persuasion method preferred by most, yet what if there is logic on both sides? Does it now become an argument of who's right, who's most right or who has the best logical argument? Who decides? This is the point at which a negotiation becomes a debate of facts and information used to prove the other side wrong. The only persuasion method that can deflect logic is emotion.

Emotion is defined in the Oxford dictionary as "instinctive feeling as opposed to reason". Thus to emote during a negotiation when faced with the logic argument could not only have a major impact on the results, but would definitely keep the interaction cooperative. It is very difficult to argue anyone's feelings and when a powerful emotional approach is used it will often result in only one party conceding.

The use of emotion during a negotiation is not to imply being emotional. It is a skillful way of potentially having the other side take ownership, (sympathize) with the feelings. The following represents a sample list of emotion verbalized:

"Help me to understand..."
"Put yourself in my shoes..."
"I'm really disappointed with..."
"I feel we're being let down..."
"I need you to do something to show me you value our business..."
"How would you feel if...?"
"I know we're both committed to making this work..."
"How could you do this to us...?"

All of the above statements when coupled with the appropriate tone of voice and the corresponding body language would very likely shift the other party to respond more from the personal side. Controlling the negotiation would mean being sure to end your expression of feelings with a question.

Buyer-seller relationships, as with most relationships are built on trust. Leading with emotion in the communication helps to build that trust sooner. Exploring what motivates and moves someone with respect to wants, hard and soft needs and values requires the commitment to developing and practicing a sound questioning technique that is coupled with excellent listening skills. Power is more than just knowledge.

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