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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

By Steven G. Mehta

Mary Poppins used to say that a spoon full of sugar helps the medicine go down.  She was right.  Sugar can help all types of medicine go down, including the medicine for a bad temper. According to new research, a spoonful of sugar may be enough to cool a temper for a short time.

A recent study found that people who drank a lemonade sweetened with sugar acted less aggressively toward a stranger a few minutes later than did people who consumed lemonade with a sugar substitute.  According to the study’s author, Brad Bushman, co-author of the study and professor of communication and psychology at Ohio State University, this phenomenon has to do with the amount of glucose in the bloodstream and brain.

Avoiding aggressive impulses takes self control, and self control takes a lot of energy. Glucose provides that energy in the brain,” said Bushman.  “Drinking sweetened lemonade helped provide the short-term energy needed to avoid lashing out at others.”

Interestingly, over several studies, Bushman and his colleagues found that people who show signs of diabetes or trouble metabolizing sugars in their bodies show more evidence of aggression and less willingness to forgive others.  This is crucial because the number of Americans with diabetes has more than tripled (from 5.6 million to 18.1 million).

“Diabetes may not only harm yourself — it is bad for society,” Bushman said. “The healthy metabolism of glucose may contribute to a more peaceful society by providing people with a higher level of energy for self-control.”

“To our knowledge, this is the first study to find that boosting glucose levels can reduce actual aggressive behavior,” Bushman said.

“To be sure, consuming sugar should not be considered a panacea for curbing aggression. But the results do suggest that people who reportedly “snap” with aggression may need some way to boost their mental energy, so they can override their aggressive impulses.”

On a related note, two other studies in the same paper showed how problems metabolizing glucose was linked to violent crime rates. Those states with higher diabetes rates also tended to have higher rates of murder, assault, rape and robbery, even after controlling for poverty rates in each state.

“This suggests that diabetes did not predict violent crime simply because poverty contributes to both diabetes and violent crime,” said Bushman “There is a real correlation between diabetes and violence.” Another study found similar results on a worldwide scale.

A further study conducted by the same researchers found that people with higher levels of diabetic symptoms were less likely to forgive others for their transgressions.

“These studies are more evidence that diabetic symptoms may cause difficulty in how people relate to each other on a day-to-day basis,” Bushman said.

This research is similar to what I have previously reported in my article, Self Control, Radishes and Change.  It is interesting to see that this study confirms the belief people only have so much patience and self control.  The implications for mediation an negotiations are interesting.

First, many mediations will go on for many hours.  I have heard some people even say that they believe starving a person during mediation will make them more amenable to agreeing to something.  I think – and the research seems to confirm – that like a cold, you must feed patience; and apparently patience likes sugar.

Second, an afternoon snack of some sort might even help the parties to come to resolution.

As a negotiator, if you are entering long negotiations, you should make sure that you bring your own food.  I have a chapter on this issue in my book, 112 Ways to Succeed In Any Negotiation or Mediation

This study also lends support to another previous study that found that people are more willing to agree to a request to pay money to a charity after eating than before.  The glucose level is changing their perception.  The same would also hold true in mediation and negotiations.  People should be more willing to agree to a resolution after a meal.  So maybe the best time to make the deal is right after lunch or dinner.

Journal Reference:

  1. C. Nathan DeWall, Timothy Deckman, Matthew T. Gailliot, Brad J. Bushman. Sweetened blood cools hot tempers: physiological self-control and aggression.Aggressive Behavior, 2010; DOI: 10.1002/ab.20366
Ohio State University (2010, December 1). Sugary lemonade may cool a hot temper. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 12, 2010, from­/releases/2010/11/101130161535.htm

By Steven G. Mehta

Many weeks during mediation, it appears that not a day will go by without having some overt demonstration of anger being shown by one of the participants during the mediation.  The question, however, is whether the anger has an effect on the negotiations.  Anecdotally, it cannot not have an effect.  The only issue is whether it can help to increase or decrease your negotiating position.

One study recently addressed this issue from a cultural perspective.  Researchers Hajo Adam and Aiwa Shirako evaluated whether culture affected how anger was percieved.  The research found that in a hypothetical negotiation scenario (Study 1) and a computer-mediated negotiation simulation (Study 2), expressing anger (relative to not expressing anger) obtained larger concessions from European/American negotiators, but smaller concessions from Asian and Asian American negotiators.  In both of the two studies, the anger was not appropriate to the circumstance.  However, when the anger was appropriate to the circumstances, Asian and Asian American negotiators made larger concessions to the angry opponent, and their concessions were as large as was typical for European American negotiators.  Across the board, the study found that anger elicited greater concessions from the Europeans and Americans.  This was in part based on the fact that expressions of anger are more accepted in the European and American culture.  The study also showed that expressions of anger can be very detrimental in negotiations with Asians.

The reality is that anger is a a very dangerous thing and the use of it can backfire more than it can create concessions.  Often, even in cultures that accept anger, it can lead to parties shutting down because of their emotional response to the anger.  This study proves that emotional reactions to the use of anger can have very real consequences to negotiations.

In my experience, the study may have it wrong as to the reasons for the concessions.  For example, with Euro/American participants, they are shocked by the use of anger.  They generally have one of two responses:  They shut down or they make greater concessions.  This could be because many Northern European cultures are not emotionally expressive cultures (as opposed to countries in Latin America or in the Middle East).   The Asian culture is also even more restrictive of emotional outbursts of anger.

There could also be a different effect when there is mediation versus direct negotiations.  Often the parties are more willing to express their anger to the third party mediator knowing that the full expression of that anger won’t be communicated to the other side.

It would be interesting to see the use of  anger with such emotionally expressive cultures and also to see how such anger worked in the context of a mediated case.

Research Source:

Cultural Variance in the Interpersonal Effects of Anger in Negotiations, Psychological Science

  1. Hajo Adam1,
  2. Aiwa Shirako2 and
  3. William W. Maddux1

 By Steven G. MehtaSteve Mehta


 You often hear that you get more with honey than you do with vinegar.  However, a study has tested that proverb with surprising results.

 Summary of Study

 In the January, 2004 edition of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, they studied the effect on anger and happiness in negotiations.  The study entitled “The Interpersonal Effects of Anger and Happiness in Negotiations” came to some very interesting conclusions.  The study had two experiments.  In the first experiment, participants engaged in computer mediated negotiations in which they couldn’t see their opponents.  One group was secretly told that the other side was either angry or happy.  However, in reality the participants were actually negotiating against a computer that had pre-programmed responses.  When the participants were told that the negotiator on the other side was angry, the participants didn’t bargain as hard as when they were told nothing or that the other side was supposed to be happy.

In the second experiment, the participants were told the same information about the state of mind of the opponent.  This time, the opponent also provided expressions during the negotiation of either anger or happiness.  The study found that again, when participants believed the opponent to be angry, they negotiated less aggressively.  However, when participants believed the stated expressions of anger to be disingenuous, the participants deemed the anger as merely an attempt to bluff.  However, when the opponents were identified as being consistently angry and demonstrated anger during the negotiation, the participants responded with hardball tactics of their own.


This study has several ramifications to everyday negotiations:

  • When you encounter a negotiator that you truly believe is angry with the deal or the process, fight back the urge to try and appease that person’s anger by giving an extra concession.  That person’s anger, either wittingly or unwittingly, is a tool that can be used to deteriorate your bargaining position. Instead, make attempts to let them know that you understand that they are angry and that you are working on a solution, but that not only does expressions of anger not help the resolution, but also that you want to avoid their anger causing the already tense situation to escalate into something that both sides may not be able to stop.
  • If you are angry about a situation and wish to express that anger, don’t make outward statements that reflect your anger.  Instead, your better choice is to let your actions communicate the message.  Studies have shown that most of human communication is on a non-verbal level.  One study concluded that only 7 % of communication is done verbally.  In addition, by outwardly stating that you are angry, you may inadvertently escalate the dispute because the other side may react similarly.  Finally, you could potentially mislead the other side into believing that you are bluffing.  Studies show that when people are lying about their emotional state, they tend to over-exaggerate their reaction.  This is sub-consciously done to mask the true state of mind. 
  • Beware of trying to act as if you are angry.  By acting angry in an attempt to bluff, you may invoke a hostile response and your strategy to create concessions could backfire.  Research shows that people will likely reciprocate the anger and hostility and further add flame to the fire.  In addition, one of the most important traits that a negotiator possesses is his or her credibility.  By creating a false show of anger, you could also be jeopardizing your credibility for future negotiations.  Finally, The other side may dig in deeper to ensure that it is not getting the short of end of the negotiating stick. 

This research is consistent with the recent study of anger that I reported on in a prior post entitled Negotiating Games — Using Anger in Mediation, A Researched Analysis 

Anger can be used as an effective  tool in negotiating only if it is real.  If you believe that it is appropriate to show your anger in a negotiation, then you should take care to not overtly state your anger, but instead let the opponent see the anger through indirect means.  However, if you use anger as a ploy to gain tactical advantages, it can easily backfire into escalating the conflict.  Overall,  whenever you get the urge to throttle someone in a negotiation, step back for a moment and consider whether it is truly necessary to demonstrate your anger or whether the venting of your anger, although initially fulfilling, may do more harm than good.

Steve’s Book

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