Negotiation Tactics 101: Start With Emotion

Learn how to use emotion for successful negotiations.

Stever Robbins
4-minute read
Episode #185

Negotiation expert Stuart Diamond settled the year-old Hollywood writer's strike in just three days. How? He talks about it in his new book Getting More and in an interview I did with him.  Stuart says the vast majority of negotiating is about the emotional relationship. Until both parties are on an even emotional keel, any attempt to discuss the "substance" of the deal will be derailed.

Emotion Will Trump Reason

Consider this example: Bernice is planning her wedding. She wants to ask her friend Europa to use her Aspen ski lodge for the event. She doesn’t want to alert her boyfriend Melvin that they’re getting married (that would spoil the surprise), so she is handling her own negotiations. 

Oops! Europa is pissed because Bernice won’t hire a Emperor Norton’s Stationery Marching Band to perform at the wedding.  Europa is upset and lashing out. You might think this will give her an advantage, by making her aggressive and more able to knock Bernice off-balance. But in fact, research shows that emotional upset leads to poorer outcomes, even for the person who "wins" the negotiation.

Before you address substance, make sure emotions are in order.

Emotions cloud judgment. When we're depressed, angry, or frustrated, we make black-or-white decisions. We aren't likely to find creative solutions that satisfy everyone. Your negotiation may be as major as negotiating for a new job, or as small as deciding a restaurant for dinner with your spouse. No matter the size, before you address the substance of your negotiation, make sure emotions are in order.

Make Emotional Payments

Start your negotiation by getting the person into a better emotional state, where they can think clearly. Do this by making positive emotional payments.

To figure out their individual needs, you need to understand them. What do they want? Do they need concessions? Empathy and understanding? Acknowledgement? Apology? Put yourself in their shoes and find out. If it's someone who reveals their most intimate secrets on their public Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ pages, you might even take a peek there.

That’s exactly what Bernice does. She imagines what it's like to be Europa. Europa is a rich former pop star who controls a significant percentage of the Eastern Bloc. In her thought experiment, Bernice realizes that Europa feels lonely and empty, pining for her innocent childhood, free of intrigue, playing Pirate Twins on the beach with her friend Thomas. It's this emotional void that has motivated her lifelong lust for power. ("It is true!" she cries from the next room, in a moment of uncharacteristic vulnerability.)

Bernice's emotional payments can be in the form of overtures of friendship. She might invite Europa over for tea and scones. Organic tea, of course, and gluten-free, sugar-free, fat-free, carb-free scones. Or she could invite Europa to join the girls for lunch. Once she and Europa have deepened their relationship and Europa's emotions have settled, it is a good time to discuss Emperor Norton’s Stationery Marching Band.


About the Author

Stever Robbins

Stever Robbins was the host of the podcast Get-it-Done Guy from 2007 to 2019. He is a graduate of W. Edward Deming’s Total Quality Management training program and a Certified Master Trainer Elite of NLP. He holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a BS in Computer Sciences from MIT.