HomeSpring 2018Research & TeachingWhen pride, anger affect negotiations

When pride, anger affect negotiations

Portrait of William Becker
William Becker. Photo by Jim Stroup

Do emotions of pride and anger influence sequential negotiations if the negotiator faces different counterparts within a relatively short period of time?

A two-part study co-authored by William Becker, an expert in organizational behavior and human resource management and an associate professor of management, found that anger does not carry over from one negotiation to the next, but pride does.

“One reason could be that anger tends to be a short-lived feeling directed at a specific target,” said Becker. “But pride is self-focused, calling attention to personal success and fostering the idea that you are superior to others. It can persist longer and carry over more naturally to a new situation.”

Sequential negations, different counterparts

Becker’s research adds to the growing body of studies in this area by exploring sequential negotiations facing different counterparts. The vast majority of studies examining long-term consequences in negotiation tend to be among people interacting repeatedly with the same counterparts, where pride might be informative and relevant.

“But in sequential negotiations with different counterparts, pride can prove to be a negative factor,” said Becker. “Generally, an individual should not carry emotions from one negotiation to the next, because feelings from the prior negotiations may not be applicable or relevant to the new situation.

“There is also the danger of overconfidence or hubris, which can result in rigid thinking and inadequate preparation, both of which can hinder performance,” he said.

The study

Becker conducted one part of the study in a lab setting where 158 undergraduate business students (51 percent of them men) engaged in four rounds of mixed-motive negotiation for a total of 628 negotiations.

If no agreement was made at the end of the allowed time period, both parties received an outcome of zero. Once an agreement was made, both individuals recorded the outcome, completed a short survey, and prepared for the next negotiation with a new counterpart.

“In sequential negotiations…pride can prove to be a negative factor.”

The second part of the study was in a privately held transportation company where employees negotiated fuel prices sequentially with hundreds of different suppliers over a four-week period.

While measuring for influences of pride and anger, another finding surfaced. In the student group, pride influenced outcomes in simulated negotiations only for men.

However, Becker said, in the field study, with professionals in real-world negotiation, pride was salient for both men and women.

Avoiding the pitfalls of pride

Becker offers negotiators the following suggestions to avoid the pitfalls of pride:

  • Foster a more humble, learning mindset. Ask what you did well and what you might do differently in a subsequent negotiation.
  • Allow some time to go by before starting another negotiation with a different counterpart.

“At an organizational level, firms might be well-advised to allow employees some flexibility in how they schedule their negotiations, so that they can space them out when feeling particularly prideful,” Becker said.

Becker’s study, “The Dark Side of Subjective Value in Sequential Negotiations: The Mediating Role of Pride and Anger,” co-authored with Jared R. Curhan of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was published in the Journal of Applied Psychology.

The study was reported in The Wall Street Journal.

“We hope that our study inspires new research on this important topic and underscores the importance of differentiating between situations where counterparts change versus remain the same,” said Becker.

Becker, who joined Virginia Tech in 2016, is based in the National Capital Region. He received his Ph.D. in management from the University of Arizona in 2010. He earned a master’s degree in economics from the University of Connecticut and a bachelor’s degree in marine engineering from the United States Naval Academy.

Work emotion, turnover, organizational neuroscience, and leadership are among his research interests. His study, regarding employer expectations about after-hours emails, was widely reported in the media.

– By Barbara Micale