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Don’t let anger dictate legal strategy

It's the Law

Posted: September 18, 2008 9:16 p.m.
Updated: November 20, 2008 5:00 a.m.

There is a saying by an unknown author that “anger is one letter short of danger.”

This statement has never been more true than in the context of negotiations and mediations.

Anecdotally, people have expressed significant disapproval of anger and negative emotions during negotiation.

Indeed, the usual response to anger is often to dig in heels even further. Nevertheless, there are always people who will feel that using negative emotions will cause the other side to capitulate to their demands.

Although on some occasions, the “tantrum” tactic can work, on many occasions, the other side will simply refuse to participate in such conduct. In one mediation, one party attempted to tactically use anger to persuade the other side to take the final offer that he was proposing.

Instead of having the desired outcome, the other side outright refused to accept any terms that the other lawyer offered.

The negotiation then took an additional few hours to return to a sense of normalcy. In another case, one party became known early on in the mediation to have a tantrum when things did not go his way.

Bad tactic
Within a short period of time, the other side became immune to his conduct and would simply wait out the tantrum, much like a parent might do with a petulant child.

Needless to say the tantrum tactic was not effective.

Researchers Kopelman, Rosette & Thompson have found that tactics of using negative emotions can clearly be detrimental to negotiations. One study tested the influence of strategically displayed emotions, both positive and negative, on the outcome of negotiations.

Contrary to popular belief, the study found that the strategic injection of “positive” emotions did not statistically affect the outcome of the negotiations. On the contrary, the introduction of “negative” emotions, such as anger significantly decreased the chance that the other side would accept the offer presented.

In addition, when the opposing party was given a chance to counter the offer when negative emotions were introduced, the counters were more extreme and participants were less concerned whether the other side would accept the counter-proposal. Negative emotions clearly affected the outcome of the negotiations.

As a small side note, another study found that people who were optimistic, based upon standard personality tests had a lower risk of dying. Moreover, pessimistic participants were 42 percent more likely to die of any cause in the long run.

All of us will have negative emotions at some time. If you have these emotions during a mediation or negotiation, take a time out. Take the time to collect your thoughts and find a way to express your feelings differently.

Use the mediator! Express your negative emotions to the mediator and not the other side.
If you don’t have a mediator, then find someone on your team to vent your frustrations.

Seek to understand what is triggering your anger. Often anger stems from a feeling of being hurt or disrespected.
For example, someone might be angry that the other side has such a low opinion that they would make such an outrageous offer.

Once you understand the source, you can shut it off.

Make right choice
Choose not to get angry! Anger is within your control and is a choice.

Simply choose not to get angry at the other side for what they are doing.

Steven G. Mehta is an attorney and mediator with the Valencia law firm of Mehta & Mann. His column represents her own views, and not necessarily those of The Signal. “It’s The Law” appears Fridays and rotates between members of the Santa Clarita Valley Bar Association.


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