Psychological and Emotional Roadblocks Hamper Negotiations
Reasons for Failed Negotiations
There are many reasons for failed negotiations. Emotion is often a reason that people cannot resolve their differences. When individuals are highly emotional, they lose the ability to think clearly and to fully evaluate the risks in continuing the controversy. Pride, ego, vengeance, and many other factors combine and contribute to creating negotiation roadblocks. Many of these factors have emotional and psychological connections. The focus of this article considers how these factors impact decision-making, and will provide new skills, review old ones, and assist with integrating techniques into a plan that may help find common ground.
There are many reasons for failed negotiations. Emotion is often a reason that people cannot resolve their differences. When individuals are highly emotional, they lose the ability to think clearly and to fully evaluate the risks in continuing the controversy. Pride, ego, vengeance, and many other factors combine and contribute to creating negotiation roadblocks. Many of these factors have emotional and psychological connections.
The focus of this article considers how these factors impact decision-making, and will provide new skills, review old ones, and assist with integrating techniques into a plan that may help find common ground. High emotions and biased reasoning impact the decision-making process.
Some of the most significant reasons that participants are not able to negotiate are predicated on a number of psychological factors, including: over optimism bias, limited focus bias, confirmation bias, discrediting bias, and nobility bias. These five psychological biases typically appear during negotiations. Biases are often based on assumptions, and assumptions are based on speculation or selective use of facts.
Over optimism: Individuals overestimate the strengths of their arguments and underestimate the strengths of the other side’s arguments. When participants enter a negotiation with the â€śI can’t loseâ€ť attitude, negotiations are challenged.
Limited focus: When a participant only focuses on one itemâ€”their issue and tend to ignore all other issues raised by the other sideâ€”negotiations typically fail. â€śThere is only one issue to be resolvedâ€”my issue!â€ť Rarely, is the situation only about one thing. Some people want to avoid issues because they fear being wrong.
Confirmation bias: This bias uses selective memory to support a participant’s particular point-of-view. â€śThat is not how I remember it.â€ť Only the details, justifying a person’s action or that supports their argument, are remembered.
Discrediting: The ability to discredit all information that comes from someone who holds a different perspective. â€śWell, if it comes from his mouth, you know it has to be a lie.â€ť
Nobility bias: This bias is one of the most predominate in negotiations. It is the perception that the individual is not biased, but everyone else is! â€śWho, me?â€ť
Finding common ground involves overcoming a person’s preconceived ideas, setting aside their stereotypic assumptions, and focusing on finding a meaningful settlement. Often, negotiations break down because of the participants’ emotional state inhibits their ability to hear or understand what the other side is saying. These misunderstandings are also exacerbated by many other factors, including the inability to effectively communicate. This includes being able to pay attention and to actually listen to the other side’s ideas and perspective.
Another significant reason that people do not â€śhearâ€ť one another is they are so emotional that they are unable to take in information that presents an alternative perspective about the situation. In addition, people may hear the words, but they interpret the meaning differently, or they do not actually listen to what is being said because they are too busy mentally framing a rebuttal.
Developing ways to have negotiators provide sufficient information is always a challenge, especially when people are angry, frustrated, or otherwise emotionally stressed. Without being able to exchange information, the participants have nothing to negotiate.
Strategies to Improve Negotiations
There are several techniques and strategies that negotiators can use to help refocus the discussions and to empower everyone to move forward, and to design and develop a negotiated settlement. Many communications and listening techniques can be used in combination with bias-specific strategies.
Over optimism: Before starting the negotiations, ask everyone to generate a list of the strengths and weaknesses of their arguments. Then ask them to physically move to another chair or setting and make a list of the strengths and weaknesses of the other side’s arguments. This technique of â€śshow-switchingâ€ť may provide a beneficial dose of reality and help prevent â€śIt’s my way or the highway!â€ť syndrome.
Limited focus: If there is an issue for one, it is an issue for everyone participating in the negotiations. People will not settle if they do not believe that all of their issues are addressed. Asking everyone to provide a list of all the issues they want resolved, prior to starting the negotiations, increases the possibility of finding solutions. When people actually make a list, they soon discover there are a number of related issues. This technique also prevents the infamous comment when nearing a settlement of â€śOh, by the way, there is one more thing.â€ť That statement and adding issues at the last minute destroy many negotiations.
Confirmation bias: Often asking a person to â€śdescribeâ€ť or â€śtellâ€ť will draw out a significant amount of new information, and those added details might provide an opening for an alternative way of looking at the situation. In addition, asking all those negotiating to restate what they heard the other person say, may enable them to begin to pay attention, listen, and hear an alternative point-of-view.
Discrediting: Often, when an individual does not believe or trust the other side, the best way to overcome the bias is to have terms in the settlement that provide a penalty for non-compliance. This can overcome the â€śThey can’t be trustedâ€ť belief.
Nobility: Dealing with an individual who professes to be perfect is challenging since the most important thing for this person is to be right! Protecting their image is critical and saving face is extremely important. Acknowledging when they have a point or workable suggestion helps. Flattery and â€śego-strokingâ€ť can be useful techniques.
Emotions: Creating an environment that will calm everyone will help reduce emotions. For example, not negotiating in the room where the disagreement or problem originated. Refrain from providing any stimulants, including coffee or anything with caffeine. Dress in soft tone colors, like blue or gray, and avoid stimulating colors like red, orange, or yellow. Sometimes, moving the negotiations outside and taking a walk while discussing the issues might help reduce emotions. Offering a break so tempers can calm down is another useful technique to reduce emotions that might get in the way for finding a settlement. Acknowledge someone’s emotions by saying something like, â€śAngry, huh?â€ť or â€śYou sound frustrated by what happened.â€ť Acknowledging the emotion, placing a label on it, while not criticizing the person for having the emotion, will often let the emotional person know that the negotiator is truly listening.
By taking a little bit of time to have everyone take a deep breath and â€śwalk around the problemâ€ť or do a â€ś360Âş analysisâ€ť; helps â€śexpand the pieâ€ť and there by including all issues in the discussion; drawing out more information and details; providing a method for insuring compliance; and acknowledging when the opponent is right, all help enhance the probability of finding common ground and a negotiated settlement.
 Psychology deals with the connection between thought processes and behavior.
 Yeend, N. N., â€śProblem Solving Without the Elephantâ€ť, QuickRead, 01/22/2020.
 Yeend, N. N., â€śPreventing Case Over Valuationâ€ť, QuickRead, 08/16/2017.
 Yeend, N. N., â€śChanging the Workplace Narrativeâ€ť, QuickRead, 03/8/2017.
 Yeend, N. N., â€ś4 Steps to Enhancing Negotiation Outcomesâ€ť, QuickRead, 02/24/21.
TES founder, Nancy Neal Yeend, has served as a mediator for over 30 years, and her mediation practice focuses on helping businesses resolve disputes from pre-litigation thru trial and even at the appellate level. In addition, she mediates ADA cases that emanate from the DOJ for the Key Bridge Foundation.
During her career, she often reflected on “What if they had done ‘X’ then could the conflict have been avoided?” The answer is a resounding “yes”! An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure! Research demonstrates that preventing conflict has huge benefits to businesses. Controversies and conflict cause stress, and people working in stressful situations are more likely to develop significant health issues: heart disease, stroke, diabetes and even cancer.
Reducing and preventing stress has multiple benefits: productivity increases, and absenteeism is reduced, which in turn helps reduce healthcare costs. These factors significantly impact an organization’s bottom line. Our name, The End Strategy, evolved from the desire to tell people, up front, what TES does. The End Strategy says it allâ€”TES helps put an end to business related conflict. There is also a historical footnote: the founder’s last name, Yeend, mean “the end” in old English!
Ms. Yeend can be contacted at (503) 481-2986 or by e-mail to Nancy@TESresults.com.