Emotions and Concerns

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You feel emotions all the time, especially when you negotiate. You can be so busy thinking at the interests at stake that you fail to acknowledge your – and the others' – emotions when they arise.

Emotions have the power to influence the process and outcome of your negotiation. Emotions are not just obstacles to clear, rational thinking, but they are part of the negotiation. In other words, not only your interests but you are part of the negotiation.

Roger Fisher and Daniel Shapiro, from the Harvard Negotiation Program, suggest two large propositions for using emotions as you negotiate:

I) Take the initiative. Do not wait for emotions to happen, especially when you disagree with someone.
II) Address the concern, not the emotion. Many people try to deal directly with emotions, believing that they can stop or ignore them. But dealing directly with emotions often won't work as you can't stop or ignore what you feel, and trying to recognise and deal with every emotion that arise in a negotiation is an almost impossible task, even for a skilled psychologist. Thus, it is better to deal with the concerns that stimulate helpful emotions in others and in you.

Five core concerns

Fisher and Shapiro identify five core concerns that you can use to stimulate positive emotions in others and in you:

1) Appreciation. Every person desires to feel understood, valued and heard. When people feel appreciated they are more eager to work together and less hostile. There are three basic ways to appreciate one person:
  • to understand the other's point of view;
  • to find merit in what the other thinks, feels or does;
  • to communicate your understanding through words or actions.

2) Affiliation. Adversarial assumptions dominate many negotiations and prevent negotiators from doing as well as they could. Dealing with differences is better done when working together. Thus, building affiliation with the other can make a negotiation easier and more productive. There are two types of affiliation:
  • Structural connections. The links that you have with someone based on the roles you play in the same group (e.g. same age, both with kids, common interests, etc.). Explore and use this connections to build affiliation.
  • Personal connections. These are personal ties. There are several things that you could do to connect at a personal level (e.g. meet face to face rather than via phone or e-mail; discuss things you care about).

3) Autonomy. We feel bad when others make decisions for ourselves, when they try to limit our autonomy beyond what we think is appropriate. The same goes for others when what we do is limiting their autonomy. There are two things you can do to address this concern:
  • Expand your autonomy.
  • Try not to limit the other person's autonomy.

4) Status. Status is our standing in relation to that of others. When others try to demean our status we may feel frustrated, ashamed or angry – bad feelings about ourselves and others arise, with have a potential to harm to let us act unwisely and diminish our capacity to reach a wise a satisfactory agreement. There are two things that you can do to address this concern:
  • Become aware of your social and particular status. Your social status might be inferior to that of a political leader, or to that of UN diplomat. But there are other fields where you enjoy high status, these can be education, connections, moral standing, athletic ability, technical skills – you name it. Becoming aware of your social and particular status – of your strengths is likely to increase your self-confidence.
  • Become aware of the others' social and particular status, respect them. Even if your social status is higher than that of the other party, there are for sure other areas of particular status where they enjoy high status. Respecting others sincerely, can send out a good message, let them feel good, and invite them to respect yourself.

5) Role. In a negotiation you have a job to do, but it is how you do it that makes a difference. You can limit your role to those things that you are obliged to do – the things that others expect from you. Your conventional role might be boring and frustrating. But you can try to expand your role so that it includes activities that empower you, fulfil your skills and stimulate others to work together.


Summarised and adapted from Fisher, Roger and Shapiro, Daniel, Beyond Reason: Using Emotions as You Negotiate, New York: Viking, 2005.

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