Kids cry all the time when they don’t get what they want, but it looks like the same strategy could work for anybody trying to get the upper hand in a negotiation - provided they’re willing to sacrifice a little bit of dignity in order to achieve their ultimate objective, that is.
New research published in The Journal of Applied Psychology suggests that expressions of sadness by a speaker in a negotiation context can increase their ability to “claim value” in negotiations if they can make the listener experience concern on their behalf.
Researchers from the ESSEC Business School in France conducted experiments with 232 student volunteers, holding role-play negotiations between pairs of participants. Each volunteer was randomly assigned a particular emotional or character state, and after 25 minutes of preparation, was asked to act it out with their partner in a 25-minute negotiation. The volunteers were then scored on how successfully they had negotiated for their outcome using their designated strategy.
In all of the experiments, the researchers found that people will indeed concede more ground to someone expressing sadness in a negotiation, provided certain conditions are met. Breaking into tears at the drop of hat isn’t just going to instantaneously snare you whatever you want whenever you want, but expressions of sadness can be effective when the social context of the negotiation provides the listener with reasons to feel genuine concern for you.
The results name four kinds of circumstances where the social situation will arouse sufficient sympathy in those you’re negotiating with: when listeners perceive you as having ‘low power’ (or being powerless); when recipients anticipate future interaction with you; when listeners construe the relationship as collaborative in nature; and when listeners feel it would be inappropriate to blame others (ie. you).
In other words, blubbering by itself isn’t any kind of silver bullet in negotiation scenarios, but a warranted display of pathos with sufficient merit may elicit just enough sympathy in the listener to achieve the desired result - or at least make the listener more likely to concede to some of what you really want!