You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘response’ tag.

By Steven G. Mehta

I saw a fascinating post about negotiations and chocolate cake in a recent post by Andrea Schneider on the ADR Prof Blog.  I also want to thank Professor Schneider for bringing this issue to everyone’s attention.  The post addresses an article in the Wall Street Journal that studies the role of emotional responses after information overload.  And the truth is — it doesn’t take much to cause rational overload that then creates an emotional response.   Here is a brief excerpt from the Wall Street Journal Article by Jonah Lehrer

Blame It on the Brain

The latest neuroscience research suggests spreading resolutions out over time is the best approach

Willpower, like a bicep, can only exert itself so long before it gives out; it’s an extremely limited mental resource.

Given its limitations, New Year’s resolutions are exactly the wrong way to change our behavior. It makes no sense to try to quit smoking and lose weight at the same time, or to clean the apartment and give up wine in the same month. Instead, we should respect the feebleness of self-control, and spread our resolutions out over the entire year. Human routines are stubborn things, which helps explain why 88% of all resolutions end in failure, according to a 2007 survey of over 3,000 people conducted by the British psychologist Richard Wiseman. Bad habits are hard to break—and they’re impossible to break if we try to break them all at once.

Some simple tricks can help. The first step is self-awareness: The only way to fix willpower flaws is to know about them. Only then can the right mental muscles get strengthened, making it easier to succeed at our annual ritual of self-improvement.

The brain area largely responsible for willpower, the prefrontal cortex, is located just behind the forehead. While this bit of tissue has greatly expanded during human evolution, it probably hasn’t expanded enough. That’s because the prefrontal cortex has many other things to worry about besides New Year’s resolutions. For instance, scientists have discovered that this chunk of cortex is also in charge of keeping us focused, handling short-term memory and solving abstract problems. Asking it to lose weight is often asking it to do one thing too many.

In one experiment, led by Baba Shiv at Stanford University, several dozen undergraduates were divided into two groups. One group was given a two-digit number to remember, while the second group was given a seven-digit number. Then they were told to walk down the hall, where they were presented with two different snack options: a slice of chocolate cake or a bowl of fruit salad.

Here’s where the results get weird. The students with seven digits to remember were nearly twice as likely to choose the cake as students given two digits. The reason, according to Prof. Shiv, is that those extra numbers took up valuable space in the brain—they were a “cognitive load”—making it that much harder to resist a decadent dessert. In other words, willpower is so weak, and the prefrontal cortex is so overtaxed, that all it takes is five extra bits of information before the brain starts to give in to temptation.

To read the rest, please click here

Ms. Schneider’s comment was as follows:

First of all, I totally get it.  I had a very busy day yesterday with too much going on in my brain, came home to freshly baked chocolate chip cookies from my boys, and four warm fabulous cookies later realized that the diet for the day was a lost cause!

More importantly, I think this also explains why emotions bubble up so regularly in negotiations.  We might think about all of the information rationally and organize ourselves and be completely ready for the negotiation but–once we are at the table and keeping track of all of that important information (like memorizing at least 7 numbers) we are on cognitive overload–we have a hard time keeping down the “emotional” side of our brain.  And our impulses, to respond inelegantly, to assume the worst, or to yell, are much more likely to rise to the surface.  Perhaps if we show up with warm cookies for all…

One of the comments to this post by Susan Yates also provided some insight into this issue:

I heard the same story and it made me think about how many times I have told people learning to be mediators that their job is to handle the process so that the parties could handle their dispute. Here is evidence that the mediator frees up some of the “cognitive load” so the parties can make healthy decisions!

This is a very interesting discussion that addresses the value of a mediator as helping with the “cognitive load.”  The mediator can also help to prevent the emotional process from creating and additional emotional overload which apparently can happen because of the high information and stress factor.

This also helps to explain why people make these decisions that are often emotional.  For example, why do people walk away from a settlement that is only thousands apart.  This emotional connection may start to explain the automatic emotional process that kicks in when the body is under information stress or other stress.

This may also help to support the concept that people will often resort to their tried and tested methods of coping when faced with a difficult situation.  These methods may be a gut emotional reaction that may not necessarily be the right thing to do.

 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

Get Your Updates Automatically, Click Below to Subscribe

Google Reader or Homepage
Add to My Yahoo!
Subscribe with Bloglines
Subscribe in NewsGator Online

Subscribe in myEarthlink