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Should I pretend to be angry to get a better offer?

Friday, March 22, 2013
posted by Douglas Keene


Parties in negotiation are often eager to gain an edge in the maneuvering. Plans sometimes are made to walk away in anger as a strategy to elicit cooperation from the other side. But is that a good idea? Researchers say faking anger is not a wise move, but expressing actually felt anger may help you in negotiations.

Why? Because if your emotion is seen as inauthentic it generates distrust. The researchers describe faking anger as “surface acting”. Surface acting is what you do when you express a feeling externally that is not the same as what you feel on the inside. According to the cited prior research, how your face looks when you “pretend” anger, is quite different from how it looks when you actually feel anger. And the other person knows and may interpret your display as “inauthentic, calculated, dishonest, and opportunistic”. On the other hand, authentic anger can make the opposition see you as “tough and unlikely to compromise” and thus, paradoxically, makes them engage. (To help the actors used in this research display “authentic anger”, they were told to remember an incident that had truly made them angry and then record the experimental script.)

The researchers looked at the impact of “surface acted anger” versus actual anger (communicated by actors using a “deep acting” strategy!) in a negotiation process. Participants were 140 university students (66 men and 74 women) between the ages of 18 and 28. They were randomly assigned to view a videotaped recording of a male negotiating a car sale with them. The person making the offer for the car described what they wanted and then, what they had concerns about with the vehicle.

There were three forms of the videotaped car purchase offer: either a faked angry presentation, a neutral presentation, or an angry presentation. They were to view the recording, decide whether to accept or reject the offer–and if they rejected the offer, to make a counter-offer. The researchers set the initial financial offer for the car at the low end of the car’s value so that a large proportion of the students would counter-offer.

And here is what the researchers found:

When you fake anger in a negotiation process, the other side is likely to “place particularly high demands on you, be relatively dissatisfied, and have little interest in working with you again” because of distrust.

The highest counter-offers were made to negotiators who faked anger, then negotiators who maintained a more neutral (aka “composed”) facade. The lowest counter-offers were made to those exhibiting a “deep acting” anger.

According to the research participants, there was no difference in what they saw as the intensity of the anger between those negotiators showing fake anger and those showing more authentic anger–they saw them as equally intense. However, they distrusted the fake angry negotiator and placed higher demands and saw the more authentically angry negotiator as tough and placed lower demands.

The researchers conclude that fake anger results in the least favorable demands from negotiation partners. Conversely, more attractive demands are made when you maintain more neutrality and the most attractive are made when you exhibit genuine anger. However–and this is the dilemma in social sciences research–these actors were not exhibiting genuine anger. They were acting and using past experiences of anger to guide their emotional expression. Even good actors display “anger” differently than you or I are likely to.

So we aren’t sure what this means for you in mediation/negotiation. Clearly, we don’t recommend you fake anger. Probably, the best bet is for you to maintain composure and emotional neutrality and take the medium counter-offer rather than the high or the low. Or if all else fails, try being genuine, whatever that might mean. If you want to settle, that is.

Côté, S., Hideg, I., & van Kleef, G. (2013). The consequences of faking anger in negotiations Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 49 (3), 453-463 DOI: 10.1016/j.jesp.2012.12.015


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