Happy-SadSigh or soften your voice, look down or look gloomy, or say something like “I feel sorrow about the way this is going” and get paid more in a negotiation? Well, it depends. Researchers recently identified a new “critical boundary condition” in conflict and negotiation processes. They examined the effectiveness of an emotional strategy that relies on benevolence. This ground-breaking research considered when and under what circumstances can people who express sadness in negotiations extract greater concessions and claim more value from their negotiation counterparts.

The results from this exploration of a new and distinct psychological mechanism in negotiations – “other-concern” – has important implications for understanding sadness and the role of this basic emotion in conflict resolution. According to the investigators, their three experiment study “departs from prior research in emotional expressions in negotiation by examining the effectiveness of an emotional strategy that relies on the other’s benevolence rather than conveying toughness or strength.” In other words, negotiators who use sadness can, under certain circumstances, hit a “sweet spot” of sorts and get a bigger payoff from their negotiation counterpart.

This research explored for the first time the scientific background of a new strategy in negotiation – expressing sadness to induce greater concessions from counterparts. This post should interest any person who provides legal counsel in or participates in them or has a personal, professional, or financial stake in the results of negotiations.

Research Background: Emotions in Negotiation, Sadness, and How Recipients Construe the Social Situation. The authors cited a number of recent studies which have explored several issues about emotions in conflict and negotiation. They noted that “In general, this recent research has shown that negotiators can strategically express emotions to elicit concessions from recipients in conflict and negotiation, especially when some factors in the social situation motivate recipients to pay attention to the expresser’s emotions.” According to the authors, one important emotion – sadness – has been neglected in this research. This research fills that gap.

Negotiations involve people. People express emotion in negotiations – social situations which involve conflict and high personal stakes. In such intense face-to-face personal interactions, those expressions of emotion can involve sadness, anger, and happiness. According to the authors of this post’s featured article, one recent research study showed that sadness emotion “is also one of the most accurately recognized by observers.” Sadness, which can arise when a person faces a loss, adversity, signals that the person needs help and has difficulty adjusting to the current situation. These signals, according to the authors, can have important roles in affecting the other person’s feelings and thoughts in negotiation exchanges. This effect, they argued, can impact concession making in conflict and negotiation. Earlier research has established that sadness expression operates as a signal in our social lives. It induces an important reaction in us.

Sadness can induce helping behavior. “In particular, the expression of sadness has the effect of eliciting reactions of empathy and compassion for the expresser as well as recognizing that the expresser may need one’s help.”  A final consideration in the sadness expression – other concern – involves the reason to pay. This research investigated the features of the social context involved in negotiation to learn what will lead the recipient of an expression of sadness to concede more value in a negotiation? In other words, sadness will “work” as a negotiation strategy in some circumstances and will fail to induce payment concessions in others.

The social situation in which emotions occur can influence a recipient’s response. Context matters. Negotiation occurs in a “mixed-motive interaction” social context. According to the authors’ hypothesis, a certain social context for empathy and compassion must exist for the recipient’s concessionary behaviors to kick in. Prior theorizing has suggested that expressions of sadness can induce helping behavior in cooperative but not competitive interactions. Also, research has shown that sadness expression has increased helping in communal relationships. The authors added that  “in general, people have been shown to respond to others’ signals of need only when the social context motivates them to do so.”

This research tested the authors’ argument that certain social contexts will prompt other-concern for those who express sadness in negotiation. They focused “on examining when aspects of the social situation may lead recipients to respond positively to a sad expresser in negotiation.” They looked at four features of its social context as they explored sadness, one of the most frequently encountered emotions in negotiation.

Tears - Sad eyeThe Positive Effect of Sadness: Four Features of “Other-Concern” Context for Concession-Making in Negotiations – Getting the Payoff. This study investigated whether sadness can induce concession behavior in recipients which results in the expresser of that emotion claiming greater value in negotiations. Expressions of sadness in negotiation, according to the researchers’ argument, will “increase concessions only among those recipients who have reasons to experience concern for the expresser in the first place.” The authors considered research about the effects of emotional expression from social situation literature and hypothesized that certain structural and relationship-related features of the social context provide those reasons in negotiations. The investigators considered four possible ways in which the “sad” negotiator can perhaps reap a bigger payoff.

Four features of the social context in negotiation interaction might, according to the authors, induce a recipient to experience “other-concern” for a sad expresser. This “other-concern”, a psychological mechanism triggered in response to emotional expressions of sadness, can elicit favorable concessionary behavior. More to the point, the sad-expresser may get more cash or other concessions as a result of the recipient’s positive feelings and response of benevolence induced by the following four (4) special structural and relational features of the negotiation:

  • Power – the recipients perceive the sadness-expresser as low-power, i.e. a structural feature of the social context in which the sad negotiator appears powerless and dependent, not financially independent, having no ability to agree with any other person and having no other alternatives,
  • Future Interaction – the recipients anticipate a future interaction with the sadness-expresser, i.e. if the recipient perceives that relations with the expresser will occur in the future, then that anticipated interaction provides motivation,
  • Collaborative Relationship – the recipients believe that the negotiators have a collaborative relationship rather than exchange based; a personal and human relationship between the negotiators plays an important part; the negotiators must collaborate and count on each other, whether each negotiator satisfies the other’s interests provides the gauge of the overall success of the negotiation, and not whether the process fosters a “good transaction”,
  • Blame – the recipients believe that the negotiation context presents no occasion for blame, i.e. sadness can elicit greater concessions than anger when there is low coping behavior and not frustrating of goals, the appropriateness of blame impacts the recipient’s view of the social situation and can drive negotiation behavior.

HandshakeDiscovering Critical Boundary Conditions for Sadness and Increased Value Claiming – Three Experiments and Results. The three experiments used face-to-face, actual negotiations in which graduate business and management students participated. The researchers investigated whether expressions of sadness would elicit greater concession making behavior in the recipients. The studies tested the structural and relationship aspects of the social context of negotiations as hypothesized in the four (i.e., power, relationship, future, and blame) features noted above.

Without detailing the various manipulations employed or the descriptive statistics and analytical techniques, this post summarizes the three experiments and results as follows:

Experiment 1 looked at sadness and the structural features, i.e. low power and anticipated potential future interaction. The sadness expressions involved vocal expressions(e.g. sigh, softened voice), physical expressions(e.g. looking down, gloomy look), and communication of sadness(“This negotiation makes me sad”). The low-power circumstances involved the expresser of sadness having no other options and being in a catastrophic financial situation. About the future, the recipients got information that deals could occur in the future. When recipients perceived the expresser of sadness as low-power and when they anticipated a future interaction, the sad expressers claimed more value. About their results, the authors stated, “Overall, sadness expression increased concessions only among those recipients who either (a) perceived the expresser as having low-power or (b) anticipated a future interaction.”

The second experiment considered sadness, the interpersonal nature of the negotiations relationship, and what circumstances might induce a recipient to concede more value. The researchers investigated whether recipients might concede more to a sad expresser when they construed their relationship with the other as collaborative, i.e. a personal and human relationship with the other party had an important part in the negotiation and “the success of the negotiation primarily relied on the two parties’ satisfying each other’s interests.” The results showed that “when recipients construed the relationship as collaborative, sad expressers claimed more value than did neutral expressers.” The overall results showed that “sadness expression was only effective among those recipients who construed the relationship as collaborative.”

Experiment 3 looked at how sadness expression functions differently than anger in negotiation. The researchers directly compared sadness to anger. The factor which they hypothesized to make a difference involved the appraisal of blame. Anger arises when goal frustration occurs. Anger involves another person blocking our progress to goals. It implies blame. Sadness, which arises when a person experiences low coping, implies a lack of blame. The appropriateness of blame reflects how participants view a social situation. This perspective, argued the investigators, will likely drive behavior in negotiations. The results showed that “when recipients construed blame as inappropriate, sad expressers claimed more value.” The authors noted that “It is significant that in Experiment 3, the lower intensity emotion (i.e. sadness) had a bigger, positive effect on recipients’ behavior than the higher intensity emotion (i.e. anger).”

Crossing boundaryDiscussion and Implications. The authors’ three experiments showed that sadness, a negative emotion, can increase value claiming in negotiations. Using a construct called “other-concern”, this research broke new ground in the conflict and negotiation research. They showed that sadness expression increased value claiming only when the social situation provided reasons for the recipients to express their other-concern. These reasons – four (4) features of the social context of negotiation – which the researchers described as boundary conditions, involve the structure of the negotiation interaction (low power and future interaction), the nature of the relationship between the participants (collaborative), and the appropriateness of blame (anger vs. sadness).

All three experiments showed how these conditions can cause sadness to result in increased value claiming in negotiations. These features of the social situation induced recipients to act on their other-concern. The authors’ investigation of the effects of sadness expression on recipients’ concession behavior “documented four independent boundary conditions associated with expressing sadness.”

Anger has dominated negotiation research. Negotiators may use these new research findings and deliberately manipulate expressions of sadness. Strategic feigning or exaggeration may occur. A critical boundary line exists between acceptable “puffery” or putting on a show and deceptively faking emotion to gain ground in a negotiation. “Recent evidence on faking emotions in negotiations suggests that it also might be less effective than expressing genuinely felt emotions.” The authors make this important point: “Overall, ethical caution must be strongly exercised in generalizing the results.”

So, some key take-away points from this negotiation research, applied to the legal realm, include: be ethical, be real, and be aware of the four (4) critical features of the social context of negotiations, boundary conditions of expressing sadness, and how they can operate as a strategy appeal to induce concessions from you or your counterpart and…. result in the sadness expresser getting a bigger payoff.

Thank You.  Thank you very much. Dan DeFoe JD MS – Adlitem Solutions | Organization Development for Professional Services Firms and the Legal Profession: People. Projects. Practices |Web – www.adlitemsolutions.com | Email: dan@adlitemsolutions.com | Blog – www.psycholawlogy.com | Services – Organization Development Practitioner combining and leveraging 25+ years of diverse legal experience, 7+ years of allied health training and work experience, a Master of Science in Organizational Development Psychology, and educationally qualified or earned certifications in industry-leading normal (MBTI) and special business (Hogan Assessments) personality, ability (MSCEIT) and self-report (EQi 2.0) emotional intelligence, leadership (Certified Intentional Leadership Coach), and stress management assessment and tools (ARSENAL best practices system for stress resilient emotional intelligence) to partner with clients to discover, design, develop, deliver, and evaluate custom interventions for individual, team, project, or organizational solutions. | Mission:  “America’s leading resource for emotional intelligence assessment, coaching, training, and workshops for judges, lawyers, law schools, bar associations, healthcare, medical, and other professional services providers and their organizations and leaders.”  Please visit Adlitem Solutions and Psycholawlogy again soon. Thank you.

Article Source:  Sinaceur, M., Kopelman, S., Vasiljevic, D., & Haag, C. (2015). Weep and get more: When and why sadness expression is effective in negotiations. Journal of Applied Psychology, 100(6), 1847-1871. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0038783. Those interested in deeper study of this important topic can access and read an advance copy of the early-release electronic version of the article currently available here.

Related Post on Psycholawlogy: Anger vs. Threat in Negotiation – Do You Use the Most Effective Strategy …… Are You “Cool” ?

Image Credits:  Happy-Sad here | Tears – Sad Eye here | Handshake – deal here | Crossing boundary here |

Dan DeFoe

Owner and Lead consultant at Adlitem Solutions
I'm an attorney with 20+ years of experience and have an MS degree in organizational development psychology. I provide normal personality and emotional intelligence assessments, assessment interpretation and feedback, and professional development planning and training activities for lawyers, judges, other legal services providers, and their organizations.

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