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So you have had one bad interaction with opposing counsel or the opposing party.  You would like to make it right.  So one good interaction should make it all better, right?  Wrong.  The reality is that one good interaction does not make up for one bad.  I know this to be true from every time I have a fight with my wife.  One good incident after the fight doesn’t make up for it.  The reality is several good interactions are necessary to make it all right again.

Well interestingly enough some research demonstrates that my anecodotal experience is not necessarily far from the truth.

Psychologist Barbara Frederickson is an expert on flourishing and has been an advocate of finding ways to bring more positive emotions into our lives. In her research she discovered a critical 3 to 1 ratio, indicating that we need to have three positive emotions for every negative one in order to thrive. (via Barking Up the Wrong Tree).  

Another researcher,  Ed Diener, in his book Happiness: Unlocking the Mysteries of Psychological Wealth, also demonstrated that the number of good interactions to offset a bad interaction depends on the relationship.  His conclusions are set forth in the attached chart.

So what does that mean to negotiations, mediation, and the general world.  A lot:  Your hist0ry can affect your future, and it takes a lot more effort to repair something than it does to break it.  As negotiators, it is far better to try to maintain good relations, because if you don’t it is much harder to come back from a bad impression — especially because your relationship is not as close as some of the relationship in the chart.  Imagine where you as negotiating partners or opposing counsel fall in relation to the closeness of the connection and how many good interactions are necessary to offset one bad one.  I would hope that you can beat the odds of a mother-in-law.  But either way, you are not as close to your opposing counsel as you are to your children or parents.  As such, it will take a lot of good interactions to offset one bad interaction.

The Moral: Do Unto Others Better Than You would Do to Yourself in Negotiations or Pay the Price.

A recent study from UC Berkely has discovered that women can use flirtation as a very effective negotiation technique.  This is not true, however for men.  Flirtatiousness, female friendliness, or the more diplomatic description “feminine charm” is an effective way for women to gain negotiating mileage, according to a new study by Haas School Professor Laura Kray.

Two experiments were conducted.  The first rated negotiating partners effectiveness based upon whether they used social charm or not.  The study found that women that used higher levels of social charm were considered more effective as negotiators; whereas the charm had no effect on the evaluation of the male negotiatiors.

The second study determined whether a participant would reduce the price of a $1,200 car based upon reading a story of a potential buyer as being a serious female or a socially acceptable flirtatious female.  The result? Male sellers were willing to give the “playful Sue” more than $100 off the selling price whereas they weren’t as willing to negotiate with the “serious Sue.” Playful Sue’s behavior did not affect female car sellers.

For both sexes, it is important to be able to understand that this phenomenon exists.  For women, they can use this knowledge to work on a better negotiated result.  For, men it is important to understand that this form of socially acceptable manipulation can occur and that it could be a negotiating tactic rather than this particular woman wanting to come on to you.

Recently, I have been looking into the concept of the backfire effect. That effect plainly states that when people are entrenched in their view, the more information that you provide them to combat their belief, the more they believe in their position.

Here is a video explaining the concept.

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

Steve’s Book

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