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Emotion is Not the Enemy: 7 Ways to Use Emotion to Your Advantage in Sales Negotiations

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Written by Mike Schultz
President, RAIN Group

It's common advice to minimize emotions in a negotiation. For example, the reading line of the article "Emotion: The 'Enemy' of Negotiation" is, "To succeed in negotiation, says one Wharton expert, one must take emotion out of the equation."

We disagree. Emotions are primary drivers of decision making in buying, and primary drivers in negotiation outcomes. Emotions shouldn't be minimized. Instead, they should be guided and managed for both buyer and seller so that the best outcome can be achieved by all.

Not only should sellers not take emotion out of the equation, they should add it. Indeed, sellers should effect emotions.

Essential Rule of Sales Negotiation #4: Effect Emotions

Inspire their emotions. Control your emotions.

In Yourself

Anxiety and other strong emotions—anger, disappointment, regret, excitement—are an inescapable part of any negotiation. You are human, not a robot.

However, with the right mindset, you can use emotions to your advantage.

1. Manage Your Emotions

Emotional intelligence—correctly identifying emotions you and others are feeling, understanding how emotions affect thinking, and reacting with emotional maturity—is an asset.

Planning is not only about solving the negotiated issue. You can plan for what a buyer might do during a negotiation and what emotions that may bring about in you. By anticipating what emotions may come up, you can decide in advance how you might react.

Knowing how you are going to react will prevent you from being derailed by your emotions.

With this knowledge and forethought, it's up to you to decide which emotions you want to express, and which you want to keep to yourself so the negotiation stays on track.

Anticipate your emotions and you will be able to control your reactions.

Feeling anxious…? Meditate. Relax. Plan. Remember, you want this sale but you don't need it. If it doesn't happen, you'll be fine.

The more you plan, the more confidence you will build, and the less anxiety you will feel. Whatever the emotion, focus on it. Ask yourself if it'll be fruitful in the negotiation, and decide what to do about it in advance.

2. Embrace "No"

Approximately 68% of sellers have what is called "a need for approval." 1 Salespeople who have a need for approval avoid asking tough questions when they perceive those questions might negatively affect their relationship with the buyer. A need for approval also leads to:

  • Not wanting to say no
  • Not pushing back
  • Not bringing difficult issues to light
  • Being too concerned about the other person's impression of them

People with high emotional intelligence can sympathize too much with the other party. If you recognize this instinct in yourself, make sure you plan ahead. Know where your boundaries are. Know when you should push back in advance. Otherwise you'll miss the opportunity.

3. Maintain a Positive Outlook

If your outlook or attitude is not in a good place, it's difficult to come up with creative ideas. Your negative energy can get in the  way, and:

  • It can cause the other person to feel uncomfortable
  • It can hinder rapport
  • It can hinder connection

Positive emotions help trigger cooperation. They help negotiators adopt a future focus, and increase the chances the negotiators will deal with each other again in the future.2 Positive emotions have also been shown to fuel creativity, important for building value and coming up with solutions that satisfy both parties' objectives and requirements.

However, there's one time where you may want to limit your positivity: at the end of a successful negotiation, especially if it might look like the deal is very favorable to you, or when you receive a concession in your favor. Negotiators who suppress their happiness help buyers save face, which is important for effecting the emotions you want in the buyer. You don't want anyone to feel like they were taken advantage of.

In the Buyer

Effecting emotions is as much about the buyer as it is you. There are four emotions you want to create with the other parties in a negotiation:

1. Connected

You want them to feel connected and to be willing to say, "We're allies," because if they feel like adversaries, you won't work together well and you'll kill the ability to come up with creative solutions. To build these feelings of connection, focus on rapport.

There are many ways to build rapport. Some of them are simple, but you'd be surprised how often sellers neglect the basics.

Be curious about the buyer. Ask questions about their interests. People like to talk about themselves, and they'll like you if you demonstrate that you are listening.

This isn't just feel-good mumbo jumbo. There's an astounding body of research that demonstrates liking, trust, familiarity, and rapport are all associated with superior negotiation outcomes—for both parties. Behaviors that build rapport and increase interpersonal trust, such as mirroring the other party (for example, using the buyer's words and repeating back their objectives verbatim) help negotiators create more value overall and claim most of that value for themselves, although not at the expense of the other party.3

Furthermore, negotiators who are antagonistic or overly aggressive do worse in negotiations.4 So while you might have heard that Machiavellian traits—manipulating and exploiting others—are an asset, there's mounting evidence that nice guys do not, in fact, finish last.

2. Engaged

You want the buyer to be willing to say, "We collaborate." When you're collaborating and when you're engaging, you're investing your time, physical energy, and psychic energy into getting something done. The more investment there is on both sides, the more desire there is to get it done.

Not only does collaboration encourage a sense of psychological ownership, it transforms the negotiation process into an opportunity to create value and improves your chances of coming to an agreement.

In our research for Insight Selling, we found "collaborated with me" was one of the top factors distinguishing top-performing sellers from second-place finishers.5 Buyers want to be involved. They appreciate it. So, invite buyer input whenever possible.

3. Respected

You want buyers to feel like they are important. There are two types of respect: authority and status. With authority, if a buyer feels you have not respected their role in the decision-making process, they may seek to assert their authority negatively. With status, if someone has seniority, an advanced degree, or is recognized as an expert, make sure they feel like you've genuinely recognized it or they'll feel affronted.

Be especially careful if the buyer voices an objection. The one surefire way to show you don't respect your buyer is to fail to acknowledge their concerns or dismiss them.

Even if the objection seems trivial to you or is based on incorrect information, take it seriously. Your first reaction when you hear an objection may be to jump right in and respond immediately. Resist this temptation. Take the time to listen to the objection fully.

Make sure you understand the objection. Not only will this communicate your respect for the buyer, it will help you get to the heart of the matter. Many objections hide underlying issues that the buyer can't or isn't ready to articulate.

Only once you've verbally recognized that their objection is valid can you begin to respond. Try "I understand why this is a concern for you..." or "I'm not surprised to hear you say that. Some people with experience in this space have the same question..." And don't forget to confirm that you've satisfied their objections before moving on.

4. Valued

You want buyers to feel that their contributions have meaning. If they feel they're a part of the solution, they'll want to see it through. If they don't feel they're a part of the solution, either from the idea and possibility perspective or from the process perspective, they will disengage.

Sometimes, this takes a bit of humility. It's easy to respond to an idea with, "Yes, I've thought of that too." It's much harder to keep your ego in check and say "That's a great line of thinking. Can you tell me more?" If you've facilitated the buyer coming to the idea, wipe your fingerprints from the process. Let them own it.

Don't dismiss the buyer's suggestions too quickly, even if they end up being dead ends. Similarly, if the buyer has made a mistake or you've gained leverage, allow the buyer to save face. Humiliation is in no one's best interest. Never leave a relationship worse than neutral.

Effect Emotions in the Buyer

Emotions have long been villified in negotiations. The standard wisdom has been to minimize them, eliminate them, and keep them out of the process entirely.

There's no way to erase emotions. It's unrealistic to do so, and inadvisable in any case.

Instead, effect emotions in yourself and the buyer. Have a plan for managing your own emotions, embrace "no," and maintain a positive outlook. Inspire the buyer to feel connected, engaged, respected, and valued.

Learn about the other Essential Rules of Sales Negotiation:

Last Updated August 17, 2023

Topics: Sales Negotiation