In Brief

Getting angry when you negotiate may help you gain more concessions in a deal--at least if that deal is with someone you'll never meet again, according to a study in the January issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (Vol. 86, No. 1).

Though anger can negatively affect negotiations in ongoing relationships between people, it may yield more concessions in smaller deals between strangers because others in the negotiation believe the angry person's limit has been reached, the study found. On the other hand, when a person appears happy or calm, negotiators tend to stand firm and make higher demands and smaller concessions to maximize their own benefit, says lead researcher Gerben A. van Kleef, a psychology graduate student at the University of Amsterdam who worked on the study with psychology professors Carsten K.W. De Dreu, PhD, of the University of Amsterdam and Antony S.R. Manstead, PhD, of Cardiff University.

To investigate the interpersonal effects of anger and happiness in negotiations, the researchers conducted three experiments--each with about 100 college student participants. Participants acted as sellers who negotiated the price and warranty of cell phones with a buyer via a computer simulation.

During the negotiations, some participants were given information about their customers' emotions, such as "this is a ridiculous offer, it really pisses me off" or "this is going pretty well, I can't complain." Participants used these emotions to determine their opponent's limit and then adjusted their negotiation demands to ensure an agreement was reached.

"Negotiators are only influenced by their opponent's emotions if it is in their strategic interest to consider them, and if they are able to consider them," says van Kleef, adding that the study's results follow the strategic-choice hypothesis, which predicted that negotiators would make lower demands and larger concessions with an angry customer than a happy one.

Why does anger bring benefits in certain negotiations? "Anger signals toughness and high limits, and thereby elicits concessions," van Kleef says. However, van Kleef warns that it can also cause problems: "Anger also contributes to negative impressions and low levels of satisfaction, suggesting that the apparent benefits of anger may backfire in the long run."

Therefore, van Kleef says, if negotiators expect to interact with the same person down the road, they may benefit from hiding their anger so they do not jeopardize future negotiations.