Negotiating a deal is a psychological game. Like all games, there are skills to learn and rules to follow. In an ideal scenario, you and your opponent approach the table with balanced decks, negotiate with ease and leave with a mutual win and a great future relationship. More often, however, your decks aren't balanced and you need to strategically manipulate the imbalance in your favour. For such times, it helps to be aware of a few strategies that can change the dynamics within a negotiation.

Emotion predicts action

A negotiator wants to know what you're thinking behind the facade of your carefully crafted words, so he can predict what your next move might be. Your emotional state reflects your thoughts, so he will carefully track your emotional trajectory for clues, throughout the negotiation. This gives you the opportunity to call your opponent's bluff with carefully choreographed emotions. The only catch is, they must appear authentic.

The surprising power of anger

Several studies suggest anger is a powerful negotiating tool. One randomized study, on 128 male and female undergraduates in The Netherlands, demonstrated that a negotiation can bring you a better deal if you become angry during the process. Changing from a happy mood to a grumpy mood was more effective than staying angry from start to finish. According to the study, for the opponent to concede to your demands:

  • Rising anger is more effective than static anger
  • Rising anger is more effective than either rising or static happiness

Why becoming angry sways the deal

The study's authors suggest some reasons why this might happen. Everyone negotiating with an opponent who became angry reported feeling fear. A rising surge of anger - rather than a static state of grumpiness - elicits the fear of possible escalation into conflict and the fear of no deal at all, so the opponent wants to cut losses by giving in. Fear can temporarily interfere with sophisticated decision-making, and force people to choose the simplest solution to gain control of the situation.

When anger backfires

1. You're negotiating on values, not goods. Anger is effective during a negotiation, only if the negotiation involves an impersonal commodity, such as money or goods. If you're negotiating on something that holds personal meaning for your negotiator and resonates with his identity or core values, then anger can turn the negotiation into a fireball of conflict.

2. There's a power imbalance. Similarly, if you are in a 'low power' position and your opponent is in a 'high power' position - say, you are a struggling inventor with a small startup and are negotiating with the CEO of a multinational company, showing anger will appear disrespectful. It may make your opponent even angrier than you are and result in a bad deal.

Taking action

What happens in a lab doesn't always translate to real life, so the results of these studies - though useful, should be taken with some caution. If you're using anger to manipulate a negotiation, make sure you are not actually angry. Losing self-control hampers decision-making and will hinder you rather than help you. Politeness and decency should never be compromised. The trick is to feign displeasure without showing aggression or disrespect.

  • Feign displeasure -- don't actually lose your temper!
  • Be respectful, courteous and kind.
  • Never threaten your opponent's self-identity or personal values.