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Whether staged or authentic, bringing anger to the negotiation table is a real tactic. If we dismiss it as not part of civilized society, we will have to settle for poor outcomes with respect to our needs and wants. Research suggests that real or staged anger is effective in adversarial proceedings. It may be at once primitive and effective. It is destructive to cooperative arrangements like business partnerships or serial negotiations. Passivity in a negotiation will not work after it has become aggressive, so something must be done to solve the problem of anger when used against us. Aggression implies calculation.


Yelling, red-faced brooding, upper lip perspiring, wild hand gesticulating, or the teeth-gnashing “silverback stare” all happen at the negotiation table. A popular example is the fuming walk out. Aggression can also take the form of a verbal assault on a position, giving the requester of that position pause and perhaps leading to a back down.


Anger creates a marked change in the dynamic of the negotiation, and it is important to delve into it more deeply. The levels of reaction to environmental stimulus are freeze, flight, and fight according to one FBI veteran[i]. Dealing with this is essentially internal. Do not be persuaded by someone else’s inability to control themselves. On a deep level this behavior causes fear, but do not show fear. Remain calm, as any threatening behavior may further escalate the tantrum if it is genuine. If assault or battery result, call 911 and consider the current negotiation over; the follow-up negotiation will be with your attorney or the public prosecutor.There are precursory conditions to anger becoming part of a negotiation. Competition sometimes leads to disappointment, which fuels anger. Ego, or not getting our way, may fuel anger. Hampering progress or simply behaving rudely may be a trigger. Whatever the cause, anger makes frequent appearances in competitive negotiations. So, when we are in an actual competition, should we also use anger? Past research found anger to be harmful. Leigh Thompson at the University of Washington and George Lowenstein at Carnegie-Mellon authored a paper, Egocentric Interpretations of Fairness and Interpersonal Conflict Anger, which concluded that anger triggers negative emotions from your counterpart, such as self-centeredness[ii]. This makes any accord more elusive. Other researchers have found that anger and other negative behaviors create retaliatory behavior and even illegal conduct when on display in a negotiation[iii]. However, more recent studies have found that anger may lead to positive outcomes. Your negotiating adversary may make larger concessions if an impasse is perceived, wanting instead to focus on progress. But anger only works if certain conditions are met. The work of Gerben A. Van Kleef at the University of Amsterdam informs us that those conditions are perception of importance and appropriateness of scale[iv]. This being the case, you must consider these five conditions and their likely outcomes:
  1. Does your adversary find the discussion important?
  2. Does your adversary have the social awareness to make inferences as to why you are angry?
  3. Are you able to have a reasonable anger response in proportion to the issue?
  4. Are you able to direct anger at the situation or problem, not the person?
  5. If you must show anger at the person, ensure this is a short term, one-off relationship and not serial. But be aware that we never know when we might have to cross a bridge that we’ve already burned.
So, should you use anger? It is effective if you know the required conditions so you can take a strategic approach. It bears repeating that you never, never direct anger at the negotiator, as explained by Fisher and Ury (e.g. hard on the problem, soft on the people). What if anger is used on you? If it’s personal, see the section on Ad Hominem. Know that the common kneejerk reaction is to avoid conflict and give concessions. Keep your cool and when someone loses it at the table, think about what is happening. The loudest person at the table is the weakest.

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