Emotions get the better of calculation in negotiations

October 16th, 2008 - 11:06 am ICT by IANS  

Washington, Oct 16 (IANS) Do certain people, who always seem to get their way in negotiations, depend on their gut instinct or are they just extremely calculating, figuring out all possible outcomes before settling on the best option? Behavioural studies have shown that emotions play an important role in decision making. However, it was not known to what extent our negotiating skills depend on our emotions.

Columbia University scientists Andrew Stephen and Michel Tuan Pham decided to explore the interplay of emotion and reason in such deal-making. They designed a series of lab experiments to see if people who trust their feelings (and those who do not) handle themselves differently in the art of negotiation.

They used a classic negotiation game called the ‘ultimatum game’, in which one person, the ‘proposer’, has a given amount of cash, which he is told to divide with a second person any way he likes. The catch is that the second person must either accept the offer or reject it entirely, no negotiation allowed. If he rejects it, both players walk away with nothing.

To test how emotions influence deal-making or or in some cases, deal-breaking, researchers manipulated how much participants trusted their feelings before they played a series of ultimatum games for real money, according to a press release of Columbia University.

They asked some of the participants to think of two occasions in their past when trusting their feelings to make decisions resulted in good outcomes. People generally find it easy to think of two such occasions, giving participants greater confidence in trusting their own emotions while making decisions.

Other participants were told to think of 10 occasions when trusting their feelings led to poor outcomes as “this made participants wary of trusting their feelings”. Then all the participants played a computerised version of the ultimatum game, in the role of “proposer”.

The results were intriguing. The participants who were more confident in following their emotions offered somewhat less money than the others. This is because they were more focussed on the “gist” of the offer itself (and what felt good), rather than on estimating the other player’s possible reaction and calculating the probabilities of payoff. In short, the immediacy of the offer trumped the more complicated calculation.

When the researchers tried two other variations of the ultimatum game (one with more room for negotiation and one with less), they found similar results. When the participants were primed to trust their emotions, they saw the transaction as simpler and cleaner - rather than complex, abstract and cognitively demanding.

The researchers believe that emotional negotiators actually have an easier time visualising the offer itself: They picture themselves offering someone $20 from their $50 pot and it feels “okay”.

Indeed, they ended up with at least as much, and often more, than their more calculating counterparts, suggesting that emotional decision making may not only be simpler, but may also be more lucrative.

These findings were reported in the October issue Psychological Science.

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