New research out of Stanford reveals cool threats beat angry words when it comes to negotiating.
If you based your negotiating style on what you see in movies, you might think shouting while being a lawyer is the way to go, but luckily entrepreneurs have more solid information to go on than the imaginings of Hollywood screen writers. Recent research conducted by professors out of Stanford and INSEAD rigorously compared the effects of showing anger (whether real or feigned) in negotiations with the effects of cool but open threats.
To do this the team ran a series of four experiments, asking study participants to negotiate first with one another and then with a computer program, which the test subjects were led to believe was actually a human negotiating partner, testing how many concessions an angry negotiating style was able to wring out of opponents versus the number of concessions won through clear but collected threats. What were the findings?
“Our results say that anger isn’t as effective as a simple threat in getting people to concede,” Margaret Neale, a Stanford professor of organizations and dispute resolution who participated in the research told Stanford Knowledgebase, which goes on to explain the details of the later computer-simulated negotiation experiments:
When the computer made angry statements (and made them late in the negotiation, before rounds 5 and 6), it was able to elicit an average of a little more than 14 concessions; in the threat condition, on the other hand, the average number of concessions was higher — about 15.5 when the threats came late in the negotiation. The same pattern of threats trumping anger held with expressions of anger or threat in earlier rounds, although both types of statements proved less effective than when delivered closer to the end of the negotiation.
Remarkably, even though threatening negotiators got their counterparts to concede more, they created less ill will than did angry negotiators: In a follow-up study, the participants rated the threatening negotiators as more likable than angry negotiators.
Further questioning of participants revealed that threatening but collected negotiators come across as more poised and confident, which led those across the table to believe their threats were thought out and serious. Meanwhile, angry outbursts were often perceived as a passing storm of emotion – a hissy fit in everyday language — that a savvy negotiator could simply wait out.
The takeaway from the research is clear. Forget the movie stereotypes and ditch the theatrics and emotional outbursts if you’re trying to get the most out of a negotiation. Instead, calm but clear threats late in the game appear to be the most effective – and as an added bonus, this approach will probably mean you’ll even be seen as more likeable at the end of the negotiation.
Do these research results jive with your real-world experience of negotiations?
Jessica Stillman is a freelance writer based in London with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM, and Brazen Careerist. @EntryLevelRebel