Are you a Nervous Negotiator?

Do you have sweaty palms and a churning stomach whenever you have to negotiate something? Or, are you as cool as a cucumber during such events. A recent study indicates that your nervousness or lack of it affects the outcome of your negotiations.

A blog by Katie Shonk posted on October 1, 2013 on the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School’s website discusses a study (first issued as a press release on August 26, 2013 by the Association for Psychological Science on its web site.) by Ashley D. Brown and Jared R. Curhan of the Sloan School of Management at MIT which indicated that “…sweaty palms and a racing heart may actually help some people in getting a good deal.” (Id.)

To reach this conclusion, Brown and Curhan conducted two experiments. In the first experiment, they “assessed” participants’ attitudes toward negotiation. (Id.). Then, several weeks later, they had these same “…participants walk on a treadmill while negotiating over the price of a used car. Some participants walked quickly to increase their heart rates, while others walked at a slower pace.” (Id.)

Those participants with negative attitudes, who had walked quickly to increase their heart rates, told the researchers that they were less satisfied with the results of their negotiations than those participants with negative attitudes who had walked at the slower pace.

In contrast, those participants with positive attitudes towards negotiations expressed greater satisfaction with the deal they had made while walking quickly on the treadmill.

In the second experiment conducted by Brown and Curhan, the participants negotiated employment compensation packages. The results from this experiments indicated, “… that physiological arousal may even enhance the negotiating abilities of those with positive attitudes toward negotiation.” (Id.)

In sum,

Brown and Curhan found that participants who look forward to negotiating and who walked while doing so achieved higher economic outcomes than those who sat during the negotiation session. In contrast, participants who dread negotiating and who walked during the negotiation performed worse.

Ultimately, the new research suggests that the effects of physiological arousal are driven by subjective interpretation. People who can’t stand negotiating seem to interpret arousal as a negative sign of nervousness, and physiological arousal therefore has a detrimental effect on their performance. But those who relish a chance to negotiate seem to interpret arousal as a positive sign of excitement, making them feel “revved up,” and the arousal boosts their performance. (Id.)

So… sweaty palms and a churning stomach may be a good thing if you love to negotiate… or a bad thing if you hate to negotiate.

… Just something to think about!

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By |2017-05-13T07:30:28+00:00October 18th, 2013|Negotiation|Comments Off on Are you a Nervous Negotiator?

About the Author:

Phyllis Pollack
Phyllis G. Pollack, Esq. the principal of PGP Mediation (, has been a mediator in Los Angeles, California since 2000. She has conducted over 1700 mediations. As an attorney with more than 35 years experience, she utilizes her diverse background to resolve business, commercial, international trade, real estate, employment and lemon law disputes at both the state and federal trial and state appellate court levels. Currently, she is the in­coming chair of State Bar of California’s ADR Committee. She has served on the board of the California Dispute Resolution Council (CDRC) (2012­2013), is a past president and past treasurer of the SCMA Education Foundation (2011­2013) and a past president (2010) of the Southern California Mediation Association (SCMA). Ms. Pollack received her BA degree in sociology in 1973 from Newcomb College of Tulane University and her JD degree from Tulane University School of Law in 1977. She is an active member of both the Louisiana and California bars. Pollack believes that it is never too late to mediate a dispute and recommends mediation over litigation as it allows the parties to decide their own solutions.