PART FOUR: Responding to Guilt, Disgust, and Happiness

How Do I Respond to Counterproductive Emotions?

You may be thinking “All this theory is fascinating, but I’m not an academic. I need to know what to do to maximize my chance of a successful negotiation in the event counterproductive emotions arise.” Here are a few proven techniques that can help you along the way.


Generally speaking, guilt leads to low self-esteem, cooperative behavior, larger concessions, and lower demands.47 It is as if the guilty negotiator must punish herself by getting a poor deal.

Your guilt

The limited literature on the role of guilt in negotiation does not distinguish between the guilty feelings of an agent and those of a client. It is somewhat difficult to conceive of a situation in which you as an agent will feel guilty about an ordinary transaction.  Given the concept of the “emotional hangover,”48 however, it is possible that such emotions will arise.  Nevertheless, as a fiduciary, you are accountable to your client,which should reduce the impact of your incidental emotions.49 Of course, this is true of every emotion you experience as an agent, but seems especially likely to prevent you from obeying a guilt-induced urge to make a poor deal. In addition to this, Fromm’s techniques for dealing with strong emotions50 should work as well here as elsewhere.

Others’ guilt

Not all guilt needs to be eliminated, of course. Guilty feelings by a negotiating counterpart can work to your advantage. When it is necessary to deal with another’s guilt, you have the entire range of tools available for dealing with your own guilt. In particular, you need to guard against your guilty client’s urge to “give away the store.” You should focus on pre-negotiation planning of appropriate outcomes, establishing accountability, and warning your client about the potential negative effect of his guilty feelings.  In addition, you can, if appropriate, encourage the use of an apology by the guilty client.  Studies show51 that apologies may eliminate demands for monetary damages altogether, restore credibility, lower jury verdicts, and help re-establish relationships. However, if there is a chance of litigation, the client should speak to legal counsel before apologizing, because in some instances, an apology can be used to prove liability.52


Your disgust

Professor Elizabeth Horberg of UC Berkeley has found that disgust is focused on maintaining purity, whether of food, or the body, or norms of morality.53 There is a gender difference, with women more easily disgusted than men.54 The emotion is visceral rather than rational. Oftentimes, we can’t explain why we feel disgusted, and fall back on vague answers like “it’s just gross.” In other words, logical argument is unlikely to change a gut feeling of disgust.  Russell and Giner-Sorolla suggest that the best – and perhaps the only – way to deal with disgust is not to let it arise in the first place.55

This research suggests that disgust can’t be overcome. But practical experience shows otherwise.  Dr. Pete Rowland56 points out that jurors exposed to gruesome evidence are still able to  render fair verdicts. Rowland also suggests57 that a warning regarding upcoming disgusting evidence reduces its impact. And Salerno and Bottoms find that experienced trial judges become de-sensitized to such emotions.58

Of course, these studies suggest that certain common techniques for overcoming strong emotion, like analyzing our feelings and taking a negotiation time out, won’t work as well as usual, because disgust is persistent and the rational part of the brain is less involved than with other feelings.

But a jury’s ability to overcome gruesome evidence implies that accountability – the duty to decide and act –  planning and  discussions with others59 still are useful. And the fact that a warning helps lessen the impact of the emotion implies that learning as much as possible about the site before a visit is wise.  And like a judge, a seasoned real estate professional may become desensitized to common property problems. Finally, substituting emotions by focusing on something positive would still seem to be a quick, effective, way to deal with these feelings.

Others’ disgust

In the real estate context, the advice to avoid disgusting input (and its price-depressing effect) means an early focus on purification, if possible.  For example, if there are rodents,  insects, mold or other potentially disgusting characteristics of the property, a seller should clean them up before disclosure becomes necessary.

If the problems can’t be cleaned up adequately, the academic findings imply that the right target market for an “impure” property is an  experienced investor, used to dealing with such issues, who may be desensitized.  He or she should be warned ahead of time about the issues. A representative for an institutional investor will additionally have accountability to the institution, which will reduce the impact of any emotions.


Your happiness

As discussed above,60 happiness is often advantageous in negotiation.  It makes us cooperative, creative, less likely to engage in destructive hardball tactics or reach impasse and more likely to find a win-win solution that maximizes wealth. If a solution to a joint problem needs to be worked out, happy negotiators are most likely to achieve it.

However, not every negotiation is about joint problem solving. Sometimes, especially in  price negotiations, a gain for you is a loss for me.  As set forth in Table 2, happy negotiators concede more, are offered less, and do worse individually.  So being too happy is a disadvantage in pure distributive bargaining situations

This is not to say that you should try to achieve negative emotional states before a negotiation. Negative negotiators are seen as weak and incompetent, get lower offers, and are often too eager to end the dispute, to their detriment. Strive instead to achieve neutrality, and to engage the logical portion of your brain by the methods already discussed: pre-negotiation discussion with others, planning, pausing, accountability, diagnosing emotions, focusing on the uniqueness of each situation, and adopting an analytical frame of mind.

Others’ happiness

If your client is visibly happy in a distributive negotiation, it can result in fewer and smaller concessions. It is therefore  important that your client take a logical approach, just as you  would.  In a problem-solving negotiation, happiness is a positive, not a negative.

There is no reason to change a counterpart’s happy mood. In a problem-solving negotiation he or she will be more cooperative and creative. In a distributive one, he or she will concede more and be happy with less. You should therefore try to create a positive atmosphere for any negotiation. Because of the so-called emotional hangover and emotional contagion phenomena, you can make your counterparts happier and increase your chances of success by providing pleasant surroundings and good coffee, using humor, ensuring they encounter smiling, cheerful staff, and so on.

A word about feigning emotions

Because emotions have helpful social impacts on our counterparts, some negotiators regularly try to fake emotions to affect their opponents. This can work, of course. But if it does not – if the feigning is detected – our counterpart is likely to become angry, offended and contemptuous. Retaliation, damage to long-term relationships and a poor reputation in the professional community may result.  Further, the work on emotional contagion tells us that we may end up feeling the emotions we start out feigning, with their resulting impacts. Any choice to feign an emotion should be made with caution.


As day to day negotiators in an area that is part of their clients’ personal identities, real estate professionals are inevitably bargaining in the presence of strong emotions. Not only do they need to be aware of all participants’ emotions (including their own), they need to remain focused on the effects of those emotions on the bargaining, and the possibility of manipulation. By doing this, they serve the client’s interest, and their own success.

by Scott Van Soye

Other Articles in this Series—

PART ONE: Impact of Emotions in Negotiations

PART TWO: Identifying Emotions in Negotiation

PART THREE: Responding to Anger, Fear, and Sadness

46 Guilt Van Kleef, (2007) supra,.; Van Kleef, G. A., De Dreu, C. K. W., & Manstead, A. S. R. (2006). Supplication and appeasement in negotiation: The interpersonal effects of disappointment, worry, guilt, and regret. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 91, 124-142. 
47Jennifer Lerner, “Negotiating under the influence” Harvard Negotiation Newsletter (June 2005) at 1-2.
48 Id. 
49 Barsade, Sigal G., The Ripple Effect: Emotional Contagion In Groups (October 2000). Yale SOM Working Paper No. OB-01. Available at (last visited 9/17/2011) 
50 University of Nottingham “Saying sorry really does cost nothing.” (!4 October 2009)  George Mason University (2009, August 25). Saying ‘I’m Sorry’ Influences Jurors. ScienceDaily.  l (visited 9/18/2011) 
51 See, for example, California Evidence Code section 1160 (a) 
52 Horberg et al. (2011) Emotions as moral amplifiers: An appraisal tendency approach to the influences of distinct emotions upon moral judgment. Emotion Review, 3, 237-244 
53Disgust Han, S., Lerner J. S., & Zeckhauser R. (Submitted/In Press) (visited 9/18/2011); Lerner, J. S., Small, D. A., & Loewenstein, G. (2004). Heart strings and purse strings: Carry-over effects of emotions on economic transactions. Psychological Science, 15, 337-341; \ P. S. Russell and R. Giner-Sorolla “The Dangers of  Disgust in the Courtroom. Journal of the American Society of Trial Consultants.” Volume 23, Issue 4, July 2011. (visited 9/19/2011 )   
54 Id. 
55Rowland, Pete “Disgust and Anger: Applicable trial strategy or wishful thinking? Response to Russell and Giner-Sorolla.”  (last visited 9/19/11)   
56 Id. 
57 Salerno, J.M., & Bottoms, B.L. (2009). Emotional evidence and jurors’ judgments: the promise of neuroscience for informing psychology and law. Behavioral Sciences and the Law, 27, 273-296. 
58Jennifer Lerner, “Negotiating under the influence” Harvard Negotiation Newsletter (June 2005) at 1-2.
59 P. J. Carnavale, & A. Isen “The Influence of Positive Affect and Visual Access on the Discovery of Integrative Solutions in Bilateral Negotiations.” Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 37, 1-13, (1986); F.G. Ashby, A. Isen & U Turken, “A neuropsychological theory of positive affect and its influence on cognition.” Psychol Rev 1999 Jul;106(3):529-50; Carnevale, P.J. January 2008. Positive affect and decision frame in negotiation. Group Decision and Negotiation, 17(1): 51-63. G. Riva, M.T. Anguera, B.K. Wiederhold and F. Mantovani (Eds.)  From Communication to Presence: Cognition, Emotions and Culture towards the Ultimate Communicative Experience. Festschrift in honor of Luigi Anolli IOS Press, Amsterdam, 2006;Van Kleef, G. A., De Dreu, C. K. W., & Manstead, A. S. R. (2004). The interpersonal effects of anger and happiness in negotiations. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 86, 57-76. 
60 “Distributive bargaining” situations are those in which the main issue is how much money someone gets.

Scott Van Soye is the managing editor of ADR Times. He is also a full-time mediator and arbitrator working with the Agency for Dispute Resolution with offices in Irvine, Beverly Hills and nationwide. He is a member of the California Bar, and practiced real estate, civil rights, and employment law for over twenty years. He holds an LL.M. in Dispute Resolution from Pepperdine University, where he is an adjunct professor of law. He welcomes your inquiries, and can be reached at or (800) 616-1202, Ext. 721.