people sitting around a table negotiating

The Effects of Anxiety on Negotiation 

Have you ever found yourself feeling anxious before, during, or after a negotiation? You’re not alone. In fact, anxiety is a common emotion experienced by many negotiators, yet it’s an emotion that has been relatively ignored in the literature on emotions in negotiations. But why is this important? Well, because anxiety can have a significant impact on our negotiation behavior and ultimately, the outcome of our negotiations.

Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with a negotiation professor at a top business school and they shared with me that there is still inconclusive evidence to show the correlation between negotiation success and emotional intelligence. This got me thinking, perhaps we’ve been asking the wrong questions when it comes to the impact of emotions on negotiation. Instead of asking if emotions have an effect on our negotiation behavior, we should be asking which emotions have the greatest effect on our negotiation behavior?

One study that caught my attention was conducted by Alison Wood Brooks and Maurice E. Schweitzer at The Wharton Business School in Pennsylvania. In their study “Can Nervous Nelly Negotiate?”, they found that while most of the data we have focuses on the effects of anger and happiness, one emotion that tends to get ignored is “anxiety.” The researchers carried out several controlled experiments involving inducing anxious states in participants and then monitoring their performance during negotiations.

This paper offers some fascinating insights. It is 55 pages long, and you may not be as motivated as I was to read it so let me offer a quick summary to help you decide before you read it.

Emotions can be categorised into Incidental and directed emotions. Incidental – this is when you are carrying an already generated emotion from a totally unrelated incident into the negotiation. For example, if you had an argument with your spouse, even though it is not related to the current context, the emotion you feel can very much affect your performance and hence the outcome.
Directed emotion – The emotions generated by the negotiation process itself. Perhaps you may be feeling particularly optimistic about your upcoming negotiation. This is important because positive moods increase concession making, stimulate creative problem solving, and increase preferences for cooperation. In contrast, negative moods decrease initial offers, decrease joint gains, promote the rejection of ultimatum offers, and increase the use of competitive strategies in negotiations.

Anxiety Induces a “Flight” Response

The results showed that when individuals experience anxiety, they tend to have a “flight” response, meaning they may be more likely to terminate the negotiation process and exit without reaching a deal, or they may seek to reach a quick agreement, even when persisting might yield a better economic outcome. This can manifest itself in making low offers, lowering expectations, making quick concessions, or making quick first offers- all in an effort to avoid the feeling of anxiety.

Now, before you start to panic (no pun intended) about how anxiety may be negatively impacting your negotiations, it’s important to note that the researchers acknowledged that more work needs to be done to conclusively talk about the exact effect anxiety can have on a negotiation. However, the evidence is clear that managing your anxiety before and during negotiations can have positive effects on the outcome. One way to do this is through training, simulations, and role-plays.

So, the next time you find yourself feeling anxious before a negotiation, remember that it’s a common emotion and one that can be managed. Take a deep breath, remind yourself that you’ve got this, and don’t be afraid to seek out resources to help you manage your anxiety and become a more effective negotiator.

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