A man cupping his ear and listening to people while maintaining emotions in negotiations.

What role do emotions play in negotiations? What forms of emotional manipulation can you use while negotiating?

Herb Cohen notes that negotiators in the win-lose mindset can profit from emotional manipulation. That is, you do anything you can to evoke a specific emotional reaction from the other party that will help you get your way.

Here’s how to handle the other party’s emotions in negotiations so you can win.

Manipulate Their Emotions

Often, this strategy of manipulating emotions in negotiations involves playing up emotions you don’t really feel or outright lying to the other negotiator. For instance, if your roof gets destroyed by a falling tree and the insurance adjuster isn’t giving you a high enough settlement, you could start crying fake tears to get them to offer more money.

Another popular form of emotional manipulation is the implied threat—to make the other party give in to your demands out of fear that you’ll somehow hurt them. According to Cohen, if you keep your threat implied and vague rather than specific, your opponent will imagine that you’re willing and capable of doing much worse to them than you really are.

(Shortform note: In Skin in the Game, Nassim Nicholas Taleb argues that vague threats can sometimes backfire. If you just tell your opponent that you’re going to do something vaguely harmful to them, it can seem like you’re trying too hard to cover up a lack of power. Instead, Taleb contends that the most effective threats are shows of power that prove you’re willing and able to do something specific to someone. For example, if your boss fires one of your close coworkers for poor performance and tells you that if you start slacking, you’re next, this will be a very effective threat.)

Protect Yourself From Manipulation With Emotional Awareness

Cohen argues that the key to protecting yourself against any manipulative tactic is recognizing in the moment when someone is trying to manipulate you. By this logic, the way to protect yourself from emotional manipulation is to cultivate greater moment-to-moment emotional awareness, so you can respond intentionally to the way the opposing negotiator is making you feel.It’s relatively easy to recognize feelings of guilt or pity if your opposing negotiator breaks down in tears, but more subtle manipulation techniques may require a higher degree of emotional awareness to detect. For example, if the opposing negotiator makes subtle passive-aggressive remarks in an attempt to undermine your confidence, you can notice these subtle emotions and recognize the manipulation. Then, you can consciously refuse to let feelings of insecurity affect your negotiating decisions.

In Emotional Intelligence 2.0, Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves describe a specific exercise to develop emotional awareness: Close your eyes and pay attention to how your body feels. Then, remember a time when you felt a strong emotion and pay attention to that emotion’s effects on your physiology. When you feel those bodily sensations in the future, you’ll be able to consciously identify the corresponding emotion more quickly.
How to Manipulate the Other Party’s Emotions in Negotiations

Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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