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By Steven G. Mehta,

It is very common in mediation and negotiation for parties to want to vent their anger, frustration, or angst.  However, according to several participants who are on the listening end of such venting, there is only so much venting that they can take or accept without feeling like they have to say something in response.  This post discusses a few techniques to primarily be able to re-start the conversation from your perspective.

First, be careful to cut short a session when a person feels that they need to vent.  Sometimes, your perception of time is different than the other person’s.  Don’t simply judge the time to interrupt as being the one when the other person repeats themselves.  Sometimes, repeating a concept out loud is part of the process of venting and allows the person to digest their own feelings by expressing them again.  In fact, many times, the person’s own feelings may surprise himself or herself. In this situation, it is better to err on the side of allowing too much, rather than too little venting.

Second, if you feel like you have to interject a comment, be careful not to be defensive about your position.  Many people have the tendency to simply wait to present their position and come across as sounding defensive about their position, rather than actually wanting to hear the other perspective.

Third, when you do interject or interrupt, be careful in how you do it.  With some people, you may feel like that there is no right time, because they constantly have an uninterrupted flow of words that cannot be broken.  In those occasions, try the following as suggested by Linda Sapadin, Ph.D in the World of Psychology.  She provides 8 tips on how to interrupt.  Here are a few:


  1. Segue into another topic.

    “That’s some story. But now I’d like to talk about something more upbeat.”

  2. Be direct.

    “I need to interrupt you. I want to tell you what happened to me yesterday.”

  3. Use the person’s name (always an attention-getter), then redirect.

    “Jen, I get what you’re saying; it happened to me too.”

  4. Speak about your time situation.

    “Jared, I only have another minute to chat.”

These concepts. can be helpful in mediations or in negotiations.  

How do you tame the angry beast that has walked through your door?  Many people are afraid to deal with the angry person. Others want to fight fire with fire.  In reality, there are some sound methods for taming the angry beast that don’t require you to fight or to flight.

According to Dr. Nadia Persun, a licensed clinical psychologist, there are several proven techniques that will help to tame the beast; and in turn help to resolve the dispute.

Disengage and don’t take it personally.

“Big bullies have deeply hurt and vulnerable cores. They are expending their toxic energy to produce their angry display as a distorted way to pursue some goal related to their personal sense of safety and significance. Even though the content may be channeled at you, the driving force behind it is related to their personality, upbringing, and prior experiences.”

Avoid ego battles and rides to the past.

“Avoid discussing with them about who did what, when and why, and how it made them feel, but repeatedly ask how they propose solving this problem now.”

Choose calm and sanity.

Give out an imaginary cupcake.

“Listening and responding to these needs calmly and emphatically can serve as the key to getting more cooperation from emotionally agitated people.”

(See complete article, How to Switch off an Angry Person)

The following things can also be considered when trying to calm the angry beast:

  • Press the pause button.  Pause the interaction for a  moment or longer
  • Change the topic
  • Change the environment
  • Agree with the angry person.  Imagine that you must start off every sentence with, “I agree…”  You don’t have to agree with everything.  Just some things.
  • Talk about the forest and not the trees.

All of these concepts can be used in mediation or in any conflict scenario.

By Steven G. Mehta

Let’s face it.  During some negotiations, you may get angry at the other sideyou’re your blood pressure may go up.  The problem with that blood pressure is that it is not only bad for your heart, but it is also bad for your ability to negotiate effectively.  According to a Clemson University researcher, your ability to recognize emotional cues in is directly linked to your blood pressure.

The study by Clemson University professor James A. McCubbin reveals that people with higher blood pressure are less able to recognize angry, fearful, sad and happy faces and text passages.

“It’s like living in a world of email without smiley faces,” McCubbin said. “We put smiley faces in emails to show when we are just kidding. Otherwise some people may misinterpret our humor and get angry.”

Negotiations are complex situations that involve all types of emotions and issues.  It is critical that the negotiators are able to understand the emotional cues that may reveal the other side’s negotiating position.  In complex social situations like work settings, people rely on facial expressions and verbal emotional cues to interact with others.

“You may distrust others because you cannot read emotional meaning in their face or their verbal communications,” said McCubbin.  “You may even take more risks because you cannot fully appraise threats in the environment.”

McCubbin refers to this phenomenon as “Emotional Dampening.”  In other words, a person has a decreased ability to understand the emotional and social cues of other people.

This research confirms anecdotal research that people do not negotiate as effectively when they are angry.  They may make rash decisions and, as this study proves, they may misinterpret critical emotional cues which can change the dynamic of the negotiation.

Take for example, the joint session in mediation.  Many times, the parties come into the joint session angry already.  They are not ready to listen to the other side.  Then they hear something that they don’t want to hear and they become even angrier.  Now everything the other person seems hostile.  Indeed, there is a saying that we judge other people by their actions, and ourselves by our intentions.  Because of the impaired emotional vision, we interpret the other person’s actions negatively.  Many times in mediation, this anger-impairment cycle can lead to disastrous consequences.

So if you feel yourself getting hot under the collar because of a negotiation, consider using tactics to calm yourself down first before continuing the negotiations.


McCubbin’s study, published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine, was supported by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute and the National Institute on Aging, both parts of the National Institutes of Health.

The journal article was co-authored by Marcellus M. Merritt of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee psychology department; John J. Sollers III if the psychological medicine department at the University of Auckland; Dr. Michele K. Evans of the Laboratory of Immunology, National Institute on Aging; Alan B. Zonderman, Laboratory of Behavioral Neuroscience, National Institute on Aging; Dr. Richard D. Lane of the psychiatry department, University of Arizona; and Julian F. Thayer of the Ohio State University psychology department.

By Steven G. Mehta

By Steven G. Mehta

If you want to make the right decision, get angry.  Wait, that doesn’t make sense.  Or does it?  A surprising new study suggests that in at least one aspect the angry individual will be the more rational decision maker because they’ll be less prone to the confirmation bias – tendency to seek out information that supports our existing views.

Maia Young and her colleagues researched this issue in several experiments.  The angry individual was found to go against the wisdom of the group and instead “had a mind of his own.”
The participants who’d earlier been made to feel angry were the ones who were more likely to change their position after a debate on a topic.

Young and her team said their results provided an example of anger leading to a cognitive pattern characterised by less bias. ‘Although the hypothesis disconfirming behaviour that anger produces may well be an aggressive act, meant to move or fight against the opposition’s opinion,’ they said, ‘its result is to provide those who feel angry with better information.’

In mediation, this concept may be helpful to the ultimate decision making process.  People are often angry in the mediation.  They vent their feelings early in the mediation process.  That forum to express anger may be part of the reason why they are then open to alternative views after that anger has been expressed.

One commenter stated as follows:

This makes a lot of sense to me. Pretty much every time I’ve shifted in my opinion on a major issue involved at least some degree of anger. Not necessarily PISSED OFF GRRR but at least upset. Certainly there’ve been times when I looked up the opposing argument intending to tear it apart and come out thinking “actually … they might have a point after all”

This research requires more investigation before it can be relied upon for application.

Research Source:

Young, M., Tiedens, L., Jung, H., and Tsai, M. (2011). Mad enough to see the other side: Anger and the search for disconfirming information. Cognition and Emotion, 25 (1), 10-21 DOI:10.1080/02699930903534105

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