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All negotiations are emotional

May 22, 2014

[We can’t escape our emotions in negotiations, but there are ways to work with them. Here are four tips from former President of Ecuador and negotiation expert Jamil Mahuad that can help you control your emotions and negotiate effectively.–Ed]

1. Don’t make the “fundamental attribution error.”

It’s a common human tendency. When we are dissatisfied with someone’s decision, or when we are disappointed with somebody else in general, we think it’s because of who they are. But when we explain our own conduct, we say we acted based on our circumstances, that we were constrained by reality. First, we need to be aware that we are doing this. Then we need to fix the double standard—make sure you are using the same attribution across the board. Take into account the situation, environment, and influences that led the other party to make that decision or take that action. Consider that the other person isn’t “bad,” but is constrained in their role by realities.

2. Control your emotions or be controlled by them.

Emotions are there all the time; you can’t avoid them. They are so automatic that your mind can’t suppress them. They produce a physical reaction—your adrenaline pumps, your heart and pulse race. You don’t consciously realize that you are angry until you’ve already been angry for several seconds. We need to study how we behave and how we react to situations so that we can read the “moments of danger.” If you know you are going into a situation where you usually lose your control, you can do things to prevent that from happening. For example, ask for a break. Practice controlling your words so you don’t just say whatever comes to your mind in a moment of anger. It’s important because everything that you do will affect the other person. And a bad moment in the present can affect the future.

3. Nothing trumps a personal connection—technology can hurt … and help.

Personal meetings are always preferable, but not always possible. Telephones became a substitute. Now we have email, which is the most impersonal option. With email, you never know where the other person is while reading the message. Is he angry? Is she tired? That’s the mindset that will be used when reading your email, so there is a lot of potential for misinterpretation. But we also have technologies like Skype and FaceTime that enable us to see each other and our reactions. If you have a choice, try to communicate with both video and voice whenever possible, and voice alone if necessary. Try to avoid relying on just the words via email.

4. Set reasonable expectations about your own emotional needs.

There are five essential emotional needs that you should address to establish a connection that will lead to successful negotiation. But what if your own emotional needs aren’t being met? It’s important to find a balance in life and to understand that maybe in this conversation with this person, you are not feeling appreciated but you have a lot of friends who do appreciate you. You have to accept that in this particular case, you won’t get it. So you need to be able to give appreciation without receiving it. We always look for reciprocity, but it doesn’t happen in every single interaction, every single day. You also can’t expect people to have the same needs you do. Our psychologies are different; our ways of doing things are different. But when you have a common goal, you can come to the same point through different paths. So do fulfill your concerns, but don’t expect to do so in each connection, in each relationship, in each interaction in negotiation.

What challenges do you face when negotiating through conflict? Share them with us in the comments below.


Jamil Mahuad is the former President of Ecuador. During his term, he negotiated a peace treaty with neighboring  country Peru and earned a Nobel Peace Prize nomination. He’s also a GILD faculty member, a visiting lecturer at Harvard Law School, and contributing author to Beyond Reason: Using Emotions as You Negotiate.


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