Want to Be a Better Negotiator? Make Your Emotions Work For You, Not Against You


Professor Shirli Kopelman shows why emotions are an important resource in negotiations.

Listen to "Dear HBR" podcast with Shirli Kopelman

There’s a common belief that to think rationally you have to turn your emotions off. The workplace is prone to this bias that we need to check emotions at the door, particularly when it comes to negotiations.

But that thinking can leave a lot of value on the table, says Michigan Ross Professor Shirli Kopelman. Her research shows that emotions can be a resource in negotiations, improving both the process and outcomes.


The key is to be mindful and let your emotions work for you instead of against you. Kopelman, author of Negotiating Genuinely: Being Yourself in Business, brings her expertise to the Ross Executive Education program Negotiating for Positive Results.

“The way you approach negotiating changes considerably when you think about how positive and negative emotions can be a resource instead of a detriment,” says Kopelman, professor of management and organizations and faculty director for research at the Center for Positive Organizations. “Emotions are there whether we want them to be or not. So, we need to know how to identify them and align them toward personal and joint outcomes.”

This doesn’t just apply to people working on big contracts. A typical work day is filled with a number of smaller negotiations, such as allocating resources to a project.

“A negotiation can simply be a conversation where we’re exploring opportunities together,” Kopelman says. “Emotions are resources we can draw on as we try to create value together. It’s part of bringing your whole self, not just a narrow part of you, to the negotiation.”

Emotions play a role in elevating negotiations in three ways:

They provide information. Your own emotions give you signals on whether a proposal is good or out of line with your goals. Other people’s emotions also provide information on how they feel, or are likely to feel, about a proposal or an idea.

“People express emotions in conversations and it can be really important,” Kopelman says. “You can think about how that information helps you move toward your goals.”

They motivate. Emotions can provide energy that motivates people to keep searching for information or explore a new opportunity.

“You might end up having a conversation you wouldn’t have if you or another person didn’t express certain feelings and made you both keep going in a certain direction,” she says. “Likewise, anger or frustration can sometimes be appropriate to express in the right way if boundaries have been crossed. It can stop small problems from becoming big ones.”

They influence. The goal with emotions is to be mindful of their presence and their role in furthering your goals, both individual and joint goals. This isn’t an invitation to be Machiavellian toward your partner, but rather to evaluate when and how to express your genuine feelings to enable you and your negotiation partners to explore opportunities and reach agreements.

“Being mindful means you’re both in the conversation and observing it,” Kopelman says. “You are the narrator and the protagonist in this story that is your negotiation. You can direct where it’s going by aligning your emotions and adjusting them to be more intense or less intense where appropriate.”




Media Contact: michiganrosspr@umich.edu