Does emotion defeat logic in negotiation?

If asked, most readers would assume that logic is more important than emotion when it comes to negotiation. That’s because we generally like to consider ourselves as people who are guided by reason. While this helps us feel in control of our environment, an extensive body of research suggests that our emotions profoundly affect our decision-making.  

We’re not as rational as we would like to believe, and a surprising number of our decisions are based on emotion rather than logic. Usually, we’re not really aware of the role that emotions play in our decision-making. But when we are conscious of it, we might call it a ‘gut feeling’ or something that ‘feels right’. Emotion-based decision-making isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as it can lead to faster, more efficient decisions. However, it is something we need to be aware of. 

In this article, we explain how to recognise and cater for the emotional needs of the other party. By studying examples from advertising and politics, we explain why focussing on emotions as well as facts can be critical to achieving successful negotiation outcomes. 

Recognising and catering for emotional needs 

Think about the last time you watched a car advertisement on television. It almost certainly focussed on ideal lifestyles and glamorous partners rather than the car’s technical specifications.  

What about fast food? Advertising for this product usually involves images of laughing, healthy-looking children. All big-name brands achieve their renown by influencing how the consumer feels about the brand, not necessarily by providing a superior product. 

Modern politics has learned a lot from the advertising industry. Take Donald Trump, for instance. During his term as president, he regularly used a range of tactics to convey emotion-based messages to the public. His strategy was to control the emotional process rather than focusing on the content.  

Remember when Trump described the proposed border fence with Mexico as a ‘big, beautiful wall’? By using ‘wall’ Trump was tuned in to the emotional impact of his words and how they would appeal to his supporters. He knew they were more likely to respond positively to the reassuring, solid feel of the word ‘wall’ while his detractors would focus on the technical differences between a wall and a fence.  

Separating the process from the content  

We can also look across the Atlantic to the UK’s Brexit vote for an example of politicians favouring emotion over content. During the campaign leading up to the vote, British MP Michael Gove commented that ‘the people in this country have had enough of experts.’ In saying this he was voicing the idea that many voters were tired of experts talking about content and were hungry for a different kind of content – content that appealed to them on an emotional level.  

The leave campaigners capitalised on this desire for emotional connection by focussing on voters’ fears about immigration, their anxieties about globalisation and their concerns about losing national their identity. In the end, it seems these emotional needs (i.e. the process) had a bigger impact on voters’ decision-making than campaigning that focussed on the detailed pros and cons of leaving the EU (i.e. the content). 

Tips for negotiators 

  • Consider the impact of the other party’s emotional needs on their decision-making. At its heart, the purpose of negotiation is to satisfy a need. And emotional needs are a vital part of the negotiation process. Remember that emotion can defeat content, so it pays to consider the other party’s emotional needs (which are usually unstated) as well as their more fact-based, stated needs. 
  • Prepare a flexible negotiation strategy. Rather than planning a fixed course of action, prepare a flexible strategy for your negotiation. And make sure your strategy takes into account not only the content of the deal, but also how emotions are likely to affect the process. 

How ENS can help 

ENS consultants work with clients all over the world to help them learn how to negotiate effectively by recognising and catering for emotional needs. Understanding how to balance process and content, emotions and facts will help you achieve the best results.  

Want to know more? 

To discuss this article in more depth and explore how you can develop your negotiation capabilities, contact us on the form below. 


ENS Team
ENS Team

Part of the EdventureCo Group, a Certified B Corporate