An unknown author on the Harvard Negotiation PON Blog staff posted a blog on April 9, 2020 entitled “How Mood Affects Negotiators” which discusses “What …social psychologists [are] learning about the connections among emotions, negotiators and decision making.” (Id.)

The blog post notes that researcher Jennifer S. Lerner of the Harvard Kennedy School and her colleagues found two important themes: First, that emotions carryover from one episode to a second but entirely unrelated situation. The example given is having a car accident and then later, dealing with a “situation” at work. The emotions aroused by the car accident will spillover and effect the handling of the “situation” at work later that day. Second, that specific emotions such as happiness, sadness will affect decision making. (Id.)

The post then cites an experiment by other researchers who had participants play the classic trust game:

In related work, Robert Lount and Keith J. Murnighan of the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University considered the role of specific emotions of negotiators in a classic trust game. In this game, which is typically played for real money, player 1, the ‘trustor,’ must decide how much of $10 to give to player 2, the recipient. Player 2 receives three times the amount given by player 1; player 2 then must decide how much (if any) of this expanded total to give to player 1. The efficient solution is for player 1 to give the full $10 to player 2, who can then divide the $30 between them.

In their version, before beginning the game, Lount and Murnighan asked some trustors to write about an experience that made them happy and asked other trustors to write about an experience that made them sad. They then played the trust game. Among “happy” trustors, 53% gave recipients the full $10; only 21% of sad trustors did the same. On average, happy trustors gave away $6.76 and sad trustors gave away $5.58. (Id.)

They found that the sad mood of the negotiator decreased trust which led to a negative outcome. In sum, if you walk into a negotiation feeling negative for reasons having absolutely nothing to do with the negotiation, that negativity will indeed impact the negotiation. (Id.)

Which got me to thinking: In these times of stress (that is, the physiological reaction to an external event), and worry (that is, cognitive reaction to an external event) which culminates in anxiety (that is, when stress and worry combine)( See: “What Me Worry”, ) should we really be mediating? Or, even negotiation important matters?

The Covid-19 pandemic has forced all of us to be “safer at home” and to literally stay home as much as possible resulting in severe stress and worry over every aspect of our lives, be it our jobs (or their loss), our next meal (or food insecurity), our health and that of our family and loved ones (will we or they be the next to fall ill?), our finances (or extreme lack thereof) the education of our children (or lack thereof for those not having online capabilities and on and on and on. Won’t these stressors carry over into any negotiation in which we may participate?

And even though, many activities have moved online, including negotiations, that too, is a “new normal” which, in and of itself, causes anxiety to those who have never done it before. If one is stressed and worried over the very mode of negotiation (be it by telephone or video conference) because it is all so new, won’t those emotions carry over to the negotiation itself?

So, if this blog post is correct that our emotions stemming from one event unwittingly carry over to an unrelated event, we may want to think twice before making any decisions of importance, given the extraordinarily stressful times we are living in.

Just something to think about!

And for those of you still willing to engage in telephone and video conference mediations, I am pleased to be offering them.


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