New Study Shows Impact of Anger Expression on Business Negotiations

Businessmen argue with each other during a negotiation
Feb 2 2023

In a paper published last July in Negotiation and Conflict Management Research (NCMR), Assistant Professor of Management and Organizations David Hunsaker found that the point at which strong emotion is expressed during a business negotiation has a significant impact on the relationship between both parties. Anger expressed at an earlier stage doesn’t tend to hurt the relationship, but anger expressed later on in a negotiation often decreases the satisfaction of negotiators and damages their relationship.

Research on the impact of anger in business negotiations has produced varied findings. While some research suggests that expressing anger can help one get a better deal, other studies demonstrate how anger can harm the relationship between negotiators and prevent them from reaching a deal. Hunsaker’s research builds on this conversation by asking how important it is to consider the time at which expressions of anger occur. “Most research treats anger like a binary variable — either it’s present in the negotiation or it’s not,” Hunsaker said. “We need to be a little more specific about whether anger is expressed at an earlier stage or a later stage. Not all anger behaves the same way.”

Headshot of Professor David Hunsaker
Professor Hunsaker

Hunsaker and his co-author Teng Zhang, a professor at Penn State Harrisburg, conducted two experiments. In the first, participants had six chances to strike a business deal online with a negotiator who they believed was a real person, but was actually a computer. The computer would express anger either in the first round of negotiation or in the fifth round by making statements such as “WHAT??! Are you kidding me??” and “That kind of offer ticks me off.” In the sixth round, the computer would accept the participant’s offer. 

The second study took place in an MBA classroom. Sixty-five students were divided into teams, and Hunsaker and Zhang told half of the “buyer” teams to express anger at the beginning of the negotiation and half to express anger after the midpoint. After each study, participants took a survey measuring their desire for future interaction with their negotiator as well as their general feelings on the relationship.

Results of the studies indicate that the time at which anger occurred in the interaction had a statistically significant impact on participants’ satisfaction and desire for future interaction with the other party. On a seven-point scale, participants who experienced expressions of anger late in the negotiation had an average satisfaction level of 3.70, while those who experienced anger earlier on had an average satisfaction of 5.34. Likewise, the survey found that late anger led participants to rate their desire for future interaction with the negotiator at an average of 3.70, compared with 5.38 for those who experienced anger earlier on. 

The lesson for negotiators is a valuable one. Since the later stages of a negotiation tend to rely more on cooperation, anger at that stage can be more impactful and produce worse outcomes. “If you must express anger, it’s best to do so early in the process and then move on to more cooperative strategies,” Hunsaker explained.

But why exactly does anger expressed earlier have less of an impact on the relationship between negotiators? Does the anger heal with time, or do the parties end up repairing their relationship through continued interaction and cooperation? The paper leaves these topics open for exploration, and Hunsaker hopes that further study can shed light on them. He also hopes to bring more of a cross-cultural perspective to the topic of anger in negotiations by comparing American and Chinese data. “The norms of anger expression across cultures are different,” Hunsaker said. “So the question is, does the timing of anger affect Chinese negotiations the same way it affects American ones?”

Professor Hunsaker’s research centers on negotiation, conflict resolution, and communication. In November, he published another paper in NCMR on why strategically faking anger during negotiation is a self-defeating behavior.