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The Single Worst Thing You Can Do When Negotiating Is Get Angry

A new study says it's important to keep calm and carry on.

If you're preparing to have a discussion with your boss about getting a promotion or a pay increase, you want to make sure you come armed with your best negotiating skills. And, according to a new study published in the Journal of Behavioral Decision Making, there is one thing you should not bring to the table—anger.

Bill Bottom, a professor of organizational behavior at the University of St. Louis's Olin Business School, first became interested in angry negotiating tactics while reflecting on the so-called "madman theory." Former president Richard Nixon notoriously used this foreign policy strategy in 1969 when dealing with leaders of the former Communist Bloc. He'd attempt to seem hostile and volatile in an effort to get them to stand down out of fear that inciting his wrath could lead to nuclear warfare.

Bottom said that for decades, he'd continue to see reports saying "it pays to be angry," which he believes is an over-generalization of the research on the subject. So, he put that theory to the test.

In 2016, Bottom and his colleagues paid mediators a bonus to express anger in negotiations, and found that they often got genuinely angry in the process, which led to concessions from their counterpart. In their most recent research, they performed five studies involving more than 600 people in total, with a mix of negotiators who expressed real anger, fake anger, and those who used no emotion at all.

The results indicated that, as Bottom had suspected, the idea that it "pays to be angry" only held true when the anger was genuine. When it was feigned as a tactic, the result was a feeling of guilt from the party that expressed anger, as well as a desire to make amends later. "If you've behaved this way with anger, you've destroyed a lot of trust," Bottom said. "On your end, you realize this isn't good for the long run. So if you feel guilt, you may try to correct the damage."

The studies also showed that pretending to get angry to get what you want resulted in the other party terminating the contract approximately 30 percent of the time.

However, this wasn't the case when the anger was actually real. "When genuine anger emerges organically, I think it's a very different process and has very different implications," Bottom said. "[We're not telling you to] stop being angry. What we are saying is, it's not a useful tool to pull out as a means to coerce somebody to do something they weren't going to do otherwise."

Bottom's findings corroborate previous research on the topic, as well. A 2013 study similarly found that, in negotiations, expressing genuine anger or no emotions at all elicited the desired concessions of the angry party. But fake anger simply made the other side less willing to compromise. Another 2011 study found that anger only benefited the outcome of a negotiation when it was authentic and dealt with something impersonal, such as money or a new car, as opposed to something that held personal value. This study also found that when speaking with someone in a higher position than you are, anger of any kind tended to backfire.

So next time you go into a meeting with your boss, it's best to try to keep your cool as much as possible. After all, even if getting genuinely angry ends up meeting your demands, is intimidating the person you're dealing with really the way you want to go about it? Do you want your co-worker to think of you as someone who can fly off the handle at any moment instead of respecting you? Is getting a few extra bucks off a used car really worth shouting and gesticulating wildly at the salesperson? Probably not.

And for more advice on how to move up the career ladder, check out the 40 Best Ways to Get a Promotion After Age 40.

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Diana Bruk
Diana is a senior editor who writes about sex and relationships, modern dating trends, and health and wellness. Read more
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