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Emotional Self-awareness

The “main stage” or “theatre”27 for all emotions is the body because emotions and bodily responses are so closely linked. It is in the body that the first indicators of an emotion are felt and can be recognized. When strong negative emotions are recognized early, they can be dealt with more effectively, and the reasons why they arose can be addressed more quickly. The ability to recognize emotions—especially strong negative emotions—in the body is made easier by understanding their corresponding physical signs. Figure 9.4 presents the physical signs associated with anger, rage, fury, depression, despair, despondency, anxiety, fear, and panic.

So, how do you become aware of your emotions as they arise? By tuning in to what your body is telling you. You may be thinking that with so much going on during a negotiation and with so much other information to track, tuning in to your body as well may not only be difficult but impossible. However, the more often you tune in to your body and listen to what it is telling you, the easier and faster recognizing emotions will become. Do it right now. Is there tension in your upper back and neck as you bend over to read this book? How about your head? Do your legs feel fine or are the muscles in your calves clenched? How about your knees? Is there general muscle tension? How does your gut feel? Are you feeling anxious trying to get this chapter read in time for class? Excited by the new concepts? Bored? (I hope not!) So how long did that check take? About 30 seconds? By learning how your body reveals your inner emotional state, you will not only be more aware of what you are feeling but also be able to discover the onset of emotional states more quickly.

Another technique for becoming aware of your emotions is taking an emotional “temperature” check. Roger Fisher and Daniel Shapiro28 suggest that you can do this by asking three questions during a negotiation.

Are your emotions

Out of control? Past the boiling point. You are already saying things that are better left unsaid.

Risky? Simmering. They are too hot to be safe for long.

Manageable? Under control. You are both aware of them and able to keep them in check.

If you are finding it hard to avoid berating the other negotiator or to concentrate on anything other than your emotions, then you are at least at the risky point.29

Perception and appraisal of one’s own emotions are central to emotional intelligence. However, equally important in becoming emotionally intelligent is recognizing and dealing appropriately with the emotions of others.

Perception of Emotions in Others

There is a significant advantage to being able to accurately read emotional cues displayed by others during a negotiation. Such cues could well provide information about their reservation point, underlying interests, and constraints that might not otherwise be revealed in conversation. For example, a person might be agitated or display a strong negative emotion such as anger as she approaches her reservation point. A person might show signs of embarrassment when questions are asked about information that he does not want to reveal. People also provide important information on how they cope with such feelings. For example, a person may have an angry facial expression but a tight and controlled body posture. This disconnect may indicate unawareness, denial, or repression. Conversely, a person may have an angry facial expression together with a menacing posture and loud speech. In this case, the person may still be unaware of his feelings but is willing to express them.

It will come as no surprise that most information about emotion is transmitted non-verbally. What is surprising is that research on the general communication of information has found that only 7 percent of communication is verbal while the remainder—a huge 93 percent—is non-verbal.30 These findings indicate that we get far more information from non-verbal language than we do from spoken words. However, since there is such a myriad of non-verbal information, it is often difficult to figure out what is important and what is just extraneous. Also, some of the popular literature on reading body language erroneously puts forward single and absolute interpretations of gestures—such as crossed arms always signal hostility—without taking into consideration the context of the gesture or the person’s typical gestures.

Robert Bolton has developed several guidelines for interpreting non-verbal language that are simple, practical, and effective.31 He suggests that we focus attention on the most helpful cues; read non-verbal language in context; note incongruities; and be aware of our own feelings and body language.

In terms of where to focus attention, most behavioral scientists agree that the face is the most important source of information about emotions. As noted by Paul Ekman and Wallace Friesen:

The rapid facial signals are the primary system for expression of emotion. It is the face you search to know whether someone is angry, disgusted, afraid, sad etc. Words cannot always describe the feelings people have; often words are not adequate to express what you see in the look on someone’s face at an emotional moment.32

We are remarkably accurate in our ability to perceive emotion in others by looking at their eyes and surrounding facial tissue, and it appears that we may be hard-wired for such perception.33 Without any training, we are able to differentiate among many subtle emotions using only this facial area. Perhaps this is why advice about keeping a poker face and displaying no emotion during negotiations is so popular. One caution: when observing facial expressions of the other side, it is advisable to do so in a way that appears natural and non-threatening. You certainly don’t want them to become anxious due to your surveillance of them.

An unexpected increase in non-verbal liveliness can also tell us what is important to a person. We have all been involved in conversations where we or the other person suddenly becomes animated, as if there has been an extra energy boost. Determining which topic was under discussion during a time of increased animation will reveal what matters to a person. This technique may be of particular assistance when determining underlying interests during a negotiation or in understanding a person more fully.

No single gesture ever stands alone; it usually forms part of a pattern. In addition, a gesture does not have the same meaning from one individual to another. Thus, gestures must be interpreted and understood in the context of the situation.34 This context includes other body movements that are made at the time, the person’s words at the time, and the typical gestures of that person. If a person seldom crosses her arms, when she does it could well mean that she is distancing herself from the topic under discussion or indicating hostility. However, if she tends to cross her arms all the time, especially when she is relaxed, then you will know when she is relaxed. Sudden changes, especially changes in the position of the torso, can convey important information. Sudden leaning forward or moving backward may indicate the level of interest in the discussion; however, it is important to take the individual’s typical movements into account before drawing such conclusions.

Another guideline for interpreting non-verbal behavior is to note any incongruities between the words spoken and the body language displayed. For example, shouting the words “I am not angry” while appearing red in the face and banging the table shows a big discrepancy. When there is such disconnect between the words spoken and the body language displayed, both messages are important. A person who bangs the table while denying anger is clearly conflicted about feeling angry and most likely unable to admit to such feelings.

Surprisingly, we can become better aware of what other people are feeling through our own feelings. There is new research indicating that the brain contains neurons, called mirror neurons, that respond in the same way to others’ emotions as if we were feeling the emotions ourselves.35 Scientists have postulated that these types of neurons underlie the human capacity for empathy. It is possible that mirror neurons might even be related to the unconscious activity of mirroring the actions of others when we are in sync with them during a conversation. In fact, therapists mirror the actions of patients intentionally to better understand what they may be feeling.

Emotions are contagious. Perhaps one reason some movie stars get paid incredible amounts is that they are able to make us feel good; when they smile, we smile. In a negotiation, if another person is tense or anxious, we may also start feeling that way in response. Our reaction to the emotions of others may also explain how things can get emotional so quickly in a negotiation—we may “catch” a strong negative emotion by seeing it displayed by another person. The expression “he made me so mad” has new meaning based on these recent findings from the neurosciences. The idea that an emotion we feel may not even originate with us makes it even more important to be able to deal with strong negative emotions as they arise in a negotiation.

1 S. Kopelman, A.S. Rosette & L. Thompson, “The Three Faces of Eve: Strategic Displays of Positive, Negative and Neutral Emotions in Negotiations” (2006) 99 Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes 81.

2 R. Fisher & W. Ury, Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In (New York: Penguin Books, 1981) at 17.

3 For more about incidental emotions, see J.S. Lerner, “Negotiating Under the Influence” Harvard Negotiation Newsletter (June 2005) at 3.

4 D.L. Shapiro, “Enemies, Allies and Emotions: The Power of Positive Emotions in Negotiation” in M.L. Moffitt & R.C. Bordone, eds., The Handbook of Dispute Resolution (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2005) 66 at 68.

5 A. Damasio, The Feeling of What Happens: Body and Emotion in the Making of Consciousness (San Diego: Harcourt, 1999) at 41.

6 Ibid.

7 M.A. Neale, “Emotional Strategy” Harvard Negotiation Newsletter (February 2005) at 3.

8 J. Gross & I. Richards, “Forget the Stiff Upper Lip” (2005) New Scientist 13.

9 D. Stone, B. Patton & S. Heen, Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most (New York: Penguin Books, 2000) at 87.

10 J.T. Cacioppo & W.L. Gardner, “Emotion” (1999) 50 Annual Review of Psychology 191.

11 G.A. Van Kleef, C.K.W. De Dreu & A.S.R. Manstead, “The Interpersonal Effects of Emotions in Negotiations: A Motivated Information Processing Approach” (2004) 87 Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 510.

12 I.S. Fulmer & B. Barry, “The Smart Negotiator: Cognitive Ability and Emotional Intelligence in Negotiation” (2004) 15:3 Int’l J. Confl. Mgmt 245.

13 P. Salovey & J.D. Mayer, “Emotional Intelligence” (1990) 9 Imagination, Cognition and Personality 185.

14 E. Ryan, “Building the Emotionally Learned Negotiator” (2006) Negotiation Journal 209.

15 Shapiro, supra note 4.

16 Damasio, supra note 5 at 36.

17 Stone, Patton & Heen, supra note 9 at 95.

18 D. Keltner & P. Ekman, “Emotion: An Overview” in A. Kazdin, ed., Encyclopedia of Psychology (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000) 162.

19 Shapiro, supra note 4 at 67.

20 R. Fisher & D. Shapiro, Beyond Reason: Using Emotions as You Negotiate (New York: Penguin Group, 2005) at 4.

21 Keltner & Ekman, supra note 18 at 163.

22 D. Goleman, Emotional Intelligence (New York: Bantam Books, 1995) at 289.

23 Ibid. at 289.

24 Stone, Patton & Heen, supra note 9 at 91.

25 S. Johnson, Mind Wide Open: Your Brain and the Neuroscience of Everyday Life (New York: Scribner, 2004) at 41.

26 S.J. Stein & H.E. Book, The EQ Edge: Emotional Intelligence and Your Success (New York: Stoddart Publishing, 2000) at 44.

27 Damasio, supra note 5 at 39.

28 Fisher & Shapiro, supra note 20 at 148.

29 Ibid.

30 R. Bolton, People Skills: How to Assert Yourself, Listen to Others, and Resolve Conflicts (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1979) at 78.

31 Ibid. at 80.

32 P. Ekman & W. Friesen, Unmasking the Face: A Guide to Recognizing Emotions from Facial Clues (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1975) at 18.

33 Johnson, supra note 25 at 19.

34 Bolton, supra note 30 at 84.

35 D. Dobbs, “A Revealing Reflection” (2006) 17:2 Scientific American Mind 22.

This article appears in The Theory and Practice of Representative Negotiation (Toronto, Canada: Emond Montgomery Publications Limited, 2008) and is reprinted here with the permission of the author and the publisher.

EMOTION IN NEGOTIATION, Part II, will appear in the December 2007 edition.

DELEE FROMM is both a lawyer and a psychologist. She is a former partner of McCarthy Tetrault LLP, the largest law firm in Canada, where she practiced commercial real estate for 17 years. While practicing law she also lectured and conducted workshops on negotiation and mediation for her firm as well as for various universities and law societies. Prior to her career in law she was a senior member of the Department of Neuropsychology at Alberta Hospital, Edmonton as well as a private clinical consultant.

Now as a partner of Fromm & Goodhand and a consultant in the areas of negotiation, gender dynamics and leadership, she lectures, gives speeches and conducts workshops for a variety of organizations including major corporations, charitable organizations, universities and law firms. She teaches at Osgoode Hall Law School, at the undergraduate and graduate levels and provides exclusive one-on-one negotiation training and coaching in both Canada and the U.S. You may contact Ms. Fromm by e-mail at

Copyright © 2008 Emond Montgomery Publications Limited

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November 2007