Tag Archives: Emotions

Interests and emotions in negotiations

When two parties first begin to negotiate, there’s a blank slate. Each party focuses on the issues in an attempt to, in light of their negotiating power, trade away those issues that are less important to them in exchange for getting what they want with regards to those issues that are more important to them. The exchange is primarily interest-based.

However, as a negotiation progresses, emotions emerge.

If each party is respectful of the other, they may feel good and continue the negotiation even if their ranges of acceptable outcomes seem unlikely to overlap.

On the other hand, if one party is repeatedly conceding ground, they begin to feel bad. Similarly, if a party feels like their good intentions are being abused, they also begin to feel bad.

The negotiation develops an emotional history which becomes an important determinant of the negotiation’s outcome, beyond that suggested by a purely interest-based approach.

Depending on the emotional history of the negotiation, one or more parties may take actions contrary to their own interest in order to prevent their counterpart from getting what they want. In other words, they might trade away their interests in order to not trade away their perceived fairness of the eventual outcome.

They may also refuse to budge on what is actually a relatively less important issue to them in order to get back at their counterpart for their actions on a more important issue.

At the extreme, since a party’s negotiating style is a signal for how they will act post-negotiation, a party might leave the table due to the emotional layer of the negotiation, even after securing an outcome that is otherwise in line with their interests.

In order to not let the emotional layer of a negotiation get in the way of an otherwise mutually beneficial partnership, it’s useful to keep two principles in mind:

  1. Treat your counterpart as you would like to be treated
  2. Communicate kindly

Acting in line with these maxims isn’t easy in the heat of a negotiation. And they don’t guarantee that you’ll reach a mutually satisfying outcome.

However, if you’re able to act in line with them, they go a long way in ensuring that the outcome that you do reach reflects the interests rather than the emotions of both parties.

Words, facts, and emotions

Eric Weinstein, a mathematician and economist who is also managing director at Thiel Capital, wrote an excellent piece on what he believes is the most important scientific term or concept that ought to be more widely known. It’s called Russell conjugation (or emotive conjugation) in honor of philosopher Bertrand Russell and, stated simply, it shares that words have two layers, a factual layer and an emotional layer.

From the example in Eric’s piece, each of the phrases below suggests that people don’t change their mind. That’s the factual component. However, the perception that you have of each person after reading the phrase is different. And that’s the emotional layer.

“I am firm. [Positive empathy]
You are obstinate. [Neutral to mildly negative empathy]
He/She/It is pigheaded. [Very negative empathy]”

As shown in this example, the emotional layer sometimes simply reflects who is being talked about. If you’re describing yourself, you’re likely to use a word with a more positive emotional connotation than if you’re talking to someone else in the same room. And if you’re talking about someone else who isn’t in the same room, it’s easier to use a word with a more negative emotional connotation.

I have two key takeaways from the piece.

The first is to, to the extent possible, extract the factual and emotional layers of the information you absorb. The factual layer reflects the communicator’s perception of reality while the emotional layer reflects how they feel about that reality. Both are valuable signals.

The second is to choose your words carefully. Your recipient will interpret what you say based on the emotional connotation of your words to the same if not to a greater extent than their factual content.

I highly recommend reading the full piece which you can do so here.


We communicated with two of our companies on WhatsApp groups this week. It feels different to use WhatsApp, a tool that we usually use for personal communication, in a business setting.

Even more interesting was the use of emoji’s in the groups. It’s difficult to express emotions through text and emoji’s help solve this problem. However, emotions are expected in personal communication and less expected in a business setting. So seeing emoji’s used in a business setting made the experience even more interesting.

This all reminded me of an Andreessen Horowitz podcast on emoji which shares how emoji emerged, the contexts in which they’re used, their advantages and limitations, and how they’re likely to evolve. You can listen to it below.