Using Anger in Negotiations - Real and Fake - Ideas for Leaders
Idea #209

Using Anger in Negotiations – Real and Fake

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Previous studies indicated that in negotiations, the anger of one party would lead to concessions from the other party. New research shows, however, that there is a difference between real anger and feigned anger. While real anger might be effective in negotiations — causing the other party to think of the negotiator as tough and less likely to make concessions — new research reveals that faked anger will actually backfire. The reason being that counterparts in the negotiation see through the feigned emotion, lose their trust in the good faith and sincerity of the negotiators, and thus respond with greater, not less, demands.


Studies have shown that anger can be an effective management technique to spur a response from employees, and equally effective in negotiations to demonstrate toughness, ambitious goals, and resistance to making any concessions. However, in previous negotiation research, negotiators had no reason to doubt the sincerity of the anger of the other party. 

Stéphane Côté of the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, Ivona Hideg of Wilfrid Laurier University, and Gerben A. van Kleef of the University of Amsterdam designed two experiments to compare the effect of a negotiator displaying fake anger — acting angry on the surface without feeling such anger internally — compared to the expression of neutral emotions or real anger.

The results of the experiments were conclusive in showing that surface acting anger is counter-productive. Instead of achieving greater concessions from a counterpart in a negotiation, surface acting anger will have the opposite effect: Counterparts will make greater demands. As the researchers explain, surface acting anger is apparent to counterparts in negotiations. As a result, they no longer trust the counterpart, and in fact may believe that they may have been too lenient on the counterpart (for if the counterpart had been treated unfairly, they would be truly angry, not faking it).

Surface acting anger is also shown to have negative relational outcomes — in other words, counterparts had less or no interest in negotiating in the future with the “fakers.”

Real anger, on the other hand, was confirmed as having a positive impact for the angry negotiator. Counterparts gave greater concessions to authentically angry negotiators because they believed the angry negotiators were tougher and were not about to make concessions of their own. 


Combined with previous research on both anger and feigned emotions, this new research has important implications for behavioural choices on the part of negotiators and managers:

If you’re really angry, show it. Previous studies have shown that angry negotiators elicit concessions from their counterparts because they are perceived as tough or as having ambitious goals. Previous research also shows that anger can be effective in managerial situations in which leaders are trying to influence subordinates to make a greater effort. The new research confirms these findings, when the anger is authentic. Angry negotiators were perceived as tough and intransigent, and counterparts were willing to make concessions as a result.

Don’t try to be an actor; you’re only fooling yourself. This research also confirms the findings of more general studies on feigned emotions, specifically that no one is fooled. There are, apparently, subtle facial characteristics (for example, asymmetry in facial expressions) that betray the acting attempt. By comparing and contrasting the reactions to fake anger and real anger, the researchers demonstrate conclusively that faking it doesn’t work. Leave the acting to actors.

Never, ever fake anger; you’ll be the loser.  Looking specifically at the emotion of anger, the results in this research are unequivocal. Not only will negotiators not get the concessions or outcomes that they desire, but in fact will significantly hurt their own changes in the negotiations, specifically because they will no longer be trusted — which leads to greater intransigence from their counterparts. In addition, those who negotiate with “fakers” leave the negotiation with less desire or no desire to negotiate again with the same people. Faking anger not only leads to poor results, but also to burned bridges.

Although not specifically addressed in this research, one could assume that faking anger would have the same disastrous relational outcomes for managers as it does for negotiators. Employees or subordinates will have less desire to continue working with managers or bosses who fake anger, and may be inspired to start looking for a position in calmer waters. Managers, as opposed to negotiators, may also find that if real anger occurs too frequently, it is equally detrimental in the long run to relationships with subordinates. “If you’re really angry, show it” can be good advice to elicit short-term results — sparking greater intensity or greater effort to meet a deadline or respond to a setback — because such situations parallel the short timeframe of a negotiation, which was the focus of this research. Whether or not real anger is an effective long-term management tool remains to be proven. 



“The Consequences of Faking Anger in Negotiations,” Stéphane Côté, Ivona Hideg and Gerben A. van Kleef, Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, May 2013. 

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Idea conceived

September 16, 2013

Idea posted

Sep 2013
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