How we change what others think, feel, believe and do
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Culture, anger and negotiation
With upcoming Brexit negotiations in Europe and emotions running high, it is going to be a bumpy ride. Britain wants free trade and border control. Europe wants to set an example to stop other black sheep leaving the fold.
A question in negotiation is the extent to which you are cool and professional or whether you should express emotion. Anger in particular is a tricky one as it easily provokes the fight-or-flight reaction. The result is either one side capitulating (which is the implicit purpose of anger) or a stand-up fight where reason flies out of the window. Culture can make this a doubly dangerous game as we misunderstand the likely reactions of the other side. For example Adam et al (2010) found that students from different cultural backgrounds who used anger in negotiations could suffer from a significant backfire effect.
Yet anger, used carefully, can have a helpful effect. Adam's experiments made this work when subjects were warned beforehand of cultural tendencies of the other side to become angry. When you come from a culture where public displays of anger are disapproved of, then seeing anger can be alarming as you assume the other person has lost control of themself. Yet there are also cultures where non-expression of emotion means you are not really committed. If you know if it is normal the other side to express anger, then you will be less likely to be aroused by its use.
If you are faced with the anger of the other person, the first step is to bite your tongue. Do not get provoked into unthinking reaction. Take a break if needed to cool down, or just say nothing. Then think about why they may be anger. Is it something you said? Are they deliberately trying to manipulate you? If you have said something that could reasonably be interpreted as a provocation, apologize but do not offer negotiation concession (this is often the target). If they are trying something on, you can even turn things to your advantage, even by winding up the argument, being 'insulted' yourself or otherwise working for your own advantage.
A way to make anger work in a Western context is to remain relatively calm while indicating in words that you are feeling angry, for example by politely saying something like 'I am becoming very frustrated' or even 'I find that insulting'. When working across cultures, a good understanding of whether anger is acceptable (or even expected) can also help you choose your strategy and hence be successful.
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