Civil Negotiation and Mediation Blog

Negotiation Tip: Dealing with Irrationality in Negotiation

Posted by Nancy Hudgins on Tue, May 8, 2012

respect in negotiation

Here’s a proven negotiation tip that most people don’t think of, or at least don’t think of first.  I think it’s not used more frequently because it’s a little counter-intuitive.

When we get stuck in conflict, whether in civil litigation mediation or divorce mediation or conflicts in the workplace, we tend to let the conflict make us pessimistic about its eventual resolution, which makes us feel more stuck, and the more we feel stuck the more we feel frustrated, and the more we feel frustrated, the more we come to disrespect, or even demonize, the other side.  Once we’ve gotten to that point, about the last thing we want to do is show that we respect the other side.

Stuart Diamond, negotiation professor at The Wharton School, and author of Getting More, has studied irrationality in negotiation.  He points out:

“When people are irrational, they are emotional.  When they are emotional, they can’t listen.  When they can’t listen, they can’t be persuaded.  So your words are useless, especially those arguments intended for rational or reasonable people.” 

Diamond continues:

Emotion “reduces people’s information processing ability….[E]motional people, studies show, care less about getting a deal that meets their needs than about hurting the other party.”

Diamond recommends making “emotional payments” to the other side:

“You need to tap into the other person’s emotional psyche with empathy, apologies if necessary, by valuing them and offering other things to get them to think more clearly.”

To cut down on the other side’s acting irrationally, he suggests offering:

  • Respect
  • Face-saving
  • A statement of the other person’s value
  • Concessions
  • Apologies
  • Empathy

The value of emotional payments is that it will calm down the other side, they will be able to think more clearly, and they will be better able to listen to you.  Then the stage is set for you to persuade.  Of course, the earlier you start showing respect for the other side, the less likely they will become irrational and that you will be facing impasse in mediation or negotation.