Anger and disappointment in negotiations: what effect do they have?

We all sometimes experience anger or disappointment in reaction to undesirable situations. But what kind of effect do these emotions have if we express them in negotiations? This is the question answered in the PhD research carried out by Gert-Jan Lelieveld. Defence 29 January. 

Poker face not obligatory

The idea prevails in society that in negotiations and in other inter-personal situations you should present a poker face and suppress your emotions. ‘My research shows that on the contrary, expressing your emotions can be very effective, but only if you express the right emotion, in the right manner and in the right situation,’ explains Lelieveld. ‘Courses in negotiation skills can make use of this information by training people to regulate their emotions, so that they can use emotion strategically.’

Anger: much power, few concession

‘Anger and disappointment are two completely different negative emotions, with different effects on other people,’ explains psychologist Lelieveld. Communicating anger generally prompts people to concede too much, but not if you are in a lower position of power or when the anger is directed at the other person. Lelieveld: ‘Anger communicates that you have a lot of power and in a negotiation situation this means you are not likely to make many concessions. In order to avoid an impasse, the opponents will tend to offer a lot.’

Disappointment communicates weakness

Communicating disappointment can also lead to concessions by the other party but only if the disappointment causes him or her to feel guilty. This emotion leads to prosocial behaviour when it evokes guilt, but to selfish behaviour when it doesn’t.

Neural processes

Lelieveld’s research consisted of eight behavioural studies and an fMRI study: ‘Participants received angry or disappointed reactions in various negotiation scenarios. We then investigated how the behaviour in the negotiations and the underlying neural processes were influenced by the emotions being communicated.’

And now the positive emotions

There is apparently no similar study of positive emotions. Lelieveld wants to continue his research, this time focusing on positive emotions: ‘I would like for instance to investigate the differences between pride, hope, gratitude and happiness.’ He has also started conducting fMRI studies on the brain areas involved in socio-psychological processes such as social exclusion, and unethical and immoral behaviour.’


Gert-Jan Lelieveld

Gert-Jan Lelieveld

G.J. Lelieveld 
Emotions in negotiations: The role of communicated anger and disappointment 
Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences 
Tuesday 29 January 2013, 13:45 
Academy Building, Rapenburg 73, Leiden 
Thesis supervisors: Prof. E. van Dijk, Prof. I. van Beest (University of Tilburg) and Prof. G.A. van Kleef (University of Amsterdam)

(29 January 2013)

See also

Studying in Leiden


Psychology (1 year) and Psychology Research  (2 years)

Health across the Human Life Cycle is one of the profile themes of research at Leiden University

Last Modified: 31-01-2013