Emotions in Sales Negotiations

Joe Paranteau
October 13, 2022

Selling is a series of subsequent negotiations. Emotions in sales negotiations will affect everyone differently, but they will always be present. We may not recognize it, but it is good business to understand how harnessing your emotions and identifying your customer’s emotions can help decision-making.

Top sales professionals know that gaining excellent negotiation skills requires practice and study. The research on negotiation is clear to understand yet challenging to implement. Negotiators often let their emotions rise to a point where they cloud judgment and threaten to spoil mutually beneficial outcomes. Most of what happens at the bargaining table resembles actors aligning to a script. All is well when we remember our lines, but what if something throws our plans off, like unintended emotions welling up?

How do you account for and manage such a variable as emotion? Emotions in a negotiation can behave like an evil genie that has escaped its bottle. You want to trap them safely in the bottle. Instead of bottling up your emotions, you should be aware of your feelings and mindful of the other party’s.

When navigating a deal, customers may be emotional in the process. Most commonly, they are angry, upset, or disappointed. Sometimes, the customer feels cheated, exploited, used, or lied to. It’s your job as a sales professional to help the customer get to a position where they decide to replace these negative feelings and buy from you. It’s your job to identify emotions accurately and create a plan to use them constructively. In research conducted at Harvard Business School by Allison Woods Brooks, negotiators who accounted for their feelings experience greater satisfaction and craft better deals.

Negotiation and Emotions

The average person is full of emotion. Emotions occupy 90% of our time. Until recently, most negotiation documents regarded emotion as the main hurdle in reaching a constructive agreement. The classic book of the field, “Getting To Yes,” by Roger Fisher, William Ury, and Bruce Patton, advises readers that negotiators should separate themselves from the problems. Their work was instrumental in going beyond understanding the other party’s interests to understand how they may use emotions at the bargaining table.

Harvard Business School runs a Negotiation Mastery program to help unpack the presence of emotion and offers strategies for leveraging its power for improved outcomes. Roger Fisher and Daniel Shapiro explored feelings in their book Beyond Reason, citing they can be both an asset or an obstacle depending on how well they are understood.

Emotional intelligence in a sales negotiation

Emotions are critical to the negotiation process, and identifying and controlling them is key to emotional intelligence. In a positive direction, emotions can be an asset to our individual needs. Empathy helps us understand others. Concealing and displaying intense emotions can help create good negotiation strategies. Some perceive anger as being valuable to extract concessions. However, studies show it damages relationships. Anxiety is another emotion that may be difficult to conceal, and it reduces competence when displayed.

We must have the emotional intelligence to do business effectively. Understanding which emotions will benefit the negotiation and which emotions can cause problems for the buyer or seller is vital. To reduce the impact of these emotions, prepare and practice. It is also essential to know how other participants might feel.

Chris Voss is a former FBI hostage mediator and is now CEO of the Black Swan Group. Early in his career, Chris learned how to serve the needs of people while working at a suicide crisis hotline. There he learned how to navigate the emotional process to guide people in making decisions. What could you do to help you improve how you recognize and handle emotion in your next sales meeting?

Understand your emotional baggage in negotiation.

Negotiation is not about winning and losing. It’s about a mutual exchange of value. I constantly challenge sellers I mentor to start with what’s inside and work their way out. Some people are excellent at understanding a customer’s negative or positive emotions but fail to account for those feelings. Understanding this truth will help you become a better negotiator.

The trick to negotiation isn’t in showing how confident, clever, witty, or powerful you are. And it’s not about reminding your counterpart that you’re superior. Instead, it’s about demonstrating your ability to be human, vulnerable, and authentic by sharing your true self—however, some elements you may be holding on to could sabotage your effectiveness.

People pleasers

We bring all of ourselves into a sales negotiation, the good, bad, and ugly. Being a people pleaser in negotiation is a dangerous piece of emotional baggage. Here’s why. When a sales professional sets their need for approval or affirmation higher than the outcome of the engagement, the negotiation is suddenly tainted with latent emotional baggage. It can come across as confusing to the situation and diminish your objectives.

The seller’s emotional need to please often taints their strategic objectives. The market they feel is genuine yet toxic in the sales process. Some sales scenarios require you to walk away or make hard decisions that may benefit the other party or impact your position. You must have sober judgment and assess what suits your business and customer.

If you are a people pleaser, know this going into the negotiation. Leverage others to assist you with concessions, and practice before going into the negotiations so you stay focused on meeting the goal, not feeding your needs.

Anger, Anxiety, and negative emotions

Anger is a powerful emotion but doesn’t always help you get what you want. In my day-to-day job negotiating with customers, I see a lot of displayed anger, which I doubt to be genuine. It is a tool used by negotiators who believe this to be key to getting what they want, with little consideration for the strategic, long-term implications. Often, anger used this way leads to scorched earth. You may get what you want, but the costs may be high.

If you find yourself getting angry in a negotiation, take that anger and cool it down. Ask for a break or reconvene on another day. I’m a pilot, and I remember learning about the dangers of flying in decision-making. It has a degenerative effect on cognitive function and safety. While no one will get hurt physically in your negotiation, it may prove costly not to be your best.

emotions in sales negotiations

Negotiating with Emotion, a 2013 paper in the Harvard Business Review by Kimberley Leary, Julianna Pillemer, and Michael Wheeler, examines multiple studies about the feelings experienced by negotiators before and during negotiations. The authors conclude that anxiety about negotiating is caused by a lack of control, unpredictability, and the absence of feedback on the negotiator’s performance.

Anxiety is often highest at the moment of truth. Knowing this emotion may be present can help you control and flip it around. While anxiety is a negative emotion, excitement is a positive one. Rather than feeding the anxiety monster, tame it with self-talk. Tell yourself, “I’m excited about this negotiation!”. It will be easier to project this feeling as genuine when you step in front of your customer. Take back control of your emotions, and you will increase the odds of success.

Prepare for emotions in a negotiation.

Preparing for negotiation can help tame negative emotions, but it has another essential function. You increase deal success by creating a strategic plan to account for emotional complexity. Instead of ignoring your fears, you need to recognize your hot buttons. Start with yourself.

The people on the other side of the table can feel mixed emotions. While it’s rare for you to confirm their feelings directly, don’t ever think they don’t exist. Understanding what they fear, what makes them angry and anxious, and WHY these triggers will help you craft an agreement and reach a fair deal.

Your negotiation plan

What separates a business meeting from the rest is that they have a purpose. If you are in sales, don’t be a professional visitor. Be prepared with a plan for every meeting, whether large or small. It would be best if you always planned to negotiate.

preparing for a meeting

Here’s a template I typically use for negotiations. I use a pneumonic called OWN your next meeting to describe it. OWN stands for Organize – Win – Next Steps. Creating a plan that helps you shape your strategy is a must. To account for emotion in negotiation, consider these elements.

Understand your customer’s emotions.

To get clues on your customer’s emotions before a negotiation, look for clues in their writing and your past meeting notes. Often, customers have been coached to use language such as “disappointed” to serve as an emotional barometer, letting you know where they stand and how deep the chasm is between your position and theirs. These are labels that can anchor the discussion before it starts. Look for evidence of these anchors before the meeting. Also, ask for confirmation from others who know the negotiators well.

If you are transparent, people want to help you. I’ve routinely gone to a stakeholder’s inner circle for advice or asked people who have worked for them or with them for advice. I’ve also had a customer do this effectively. They shared, “I didn’t know you also knew person X!”. It brought a shared bond to our negotiation, and I was impressed that they cared to prepare. Preparing to understand what makes people tick is not off-putting. It is endearing. If someone asks you out on a date, and they go to the trouble of meticulously planning the entire time, it shows interest and care.

Do they like you and trust You?

It would help if you never assumed the people you are negotiating with like you or even trust you. It’s possible for them to like you and mistrust you. It’s also possible to trust and not like you (but it’s rare). So, how do you know where you stand in a professional setting? Know those first impressions are formed in seconds and are long-lasting.

The research is compelling in business that preparation yields results, but most salespeople ignore it outright by “winging it” in their sales and negotiations. It’s not enough for you to show up and assume people will want to do business with you because you flew in to meet with them (or any other rationalization you tell yourself). Studies have shown that you must inform the other party how much you want to work with them. And by all means, do sufficient preparation and planning to learn about the people you are meeting with, their business, and what drives them. Almost everyone has social exhaust you can tap into to learn more about them or ask people close to them.

I always start with gratitude before I express any outcome of enthusiasm. It frames the way you think about the other party. Start by sharing that you appreciate their presence and the priority they’ve given with their time and attention. Sound genuine and use words you typically use. You don’t want to sound contrived.

Next, watch their body language, but bring your energy. You should know if the other party’s gaze on you is connected or disconnected. Their posture and body orientation toward you are all signs that they are engaged and open to you. These are examples of display rules or nonverbal signals that can flavor the outcome and have gender and cultural implications.

As a rule, don’t talk for more than a minute without getting their verbal engagement. Verbalization in the form of something as innocuous as “So, are you ready to get started?” may work to elicit a head nod. However, it’s better to ask a question they can answer with a verbal response. They will check their email or mobile phone if they don’t verbalize something to you in sixty seconds. You can reconfirm the room is available for the next hour, that lunch will be delivered, and even ask if you can have their full attention.

woman checking out and disengaged in a meeting

Their need for respect

Some of the examples given above also highlight the other participants’ need for respect as you negotiate. As you prepare to negotiate, consider leveraging the senior talent in the room and identify ways to engage them. You don’t want to patronize them and seem insincere. Instead, if you know someone with a specific skill that may be useful in your negotiation, ask them for input and perspective.

Too many negotiators today believe they are the most brilliant people present. You lose your ability to influence when you have a high ego disposition. The ego makes it hard to build a relationship and takes the focus off the goal. It’s OK to give others ego gratification to spotlight a skill, strength, or approach to a problem. If you are facing off with a master negotiator, tell them you appreciate them.

The sweetest sound in anyone’s day is hearing their name spoken by another. Say their name naturally, but don’t overuse it and come across as disingenuous.

Check how you show up

So much of your success in negotiations revolves around how you show up. People in negotiation who project fear, anxiety, and chaos are challenging participants. You’re not sure where they will go next, and their emotions have gotten the better of them. I’ve been in negotiations where someone threw something at me. Their emotion got the better of them. I stood up and exited the negotiation, explaining that we should reconvene when we could establish that mutual respect and civility govern our discussions. Don’t take bad behavior and let it slide. It’s not productive.

Your posture may have a direct bearing on a negotiation. Research by Amy Cuddy and Dana Carney suggested that adopting ‘power poses’ enables positive physiological changes that can prepare you for things like negotiation. While this research was heralded widely, the long-term scientific scrutiny of the study has shown power poses to be inconsistent.

Studies have shown, however, that preparing yourself in advance through these poses can help elicit subjectively experienced feelings of control. It may be similar to how we subjectively feel with a nice outfit, power shoes, and a stylish hairstyle. When we feel good, it helps us to have a positive outlook, and that is an essential element in boosting positive emotions, such as feelings of excitement. If you have an important negotiation, buy a nice suit, new shoes, or a new watch. I recently purchased a new suit, shirt, and shoes for an important negotiation. I felt unstoppable and well-prepared to look sharp in the customer’s executive suite.

young man in a sharp business suit

Another important nonverbal in negotiations is to display your hands, especially in video conference negotiations. Showing your hands improves likability and trust, whereas hiding them makes it appear like you are hiding something.


If you are in a contentious negotiation, nothing works better for warming the negotiation than a bit of fun and humor. Use small talk to open the discussion and get a quick read on the situation. Here’s how:

  • Enter the room with confidence and smiling (remember you are excited to be here, and it will show)
  • Engage in direct eye contact and smile. Say hello, and thank them.
  • Open with a funny line like “OK, you’ve seen the last of Mr. Nice Guy,” or “Well – let’s get ready to rumble.” You want to be appropriate and careful here; knowing your counterparts well helps make this practical. I’d never recommend this to someone you are meeting for the first time.

You’ve just launched a trial balloon. The other negotiator (s) will respond in kind or with emotions. Use your EQ to determine if they are weary, desperate, annoyed, or under time pressure to agree. You intended to understand their position and offer a bit of humor. More importantly, it helps you take control.

Post-negotiation review & refinement

I hope you’ve thought of new ways to think about emotions inherent in negotiation and will develop new ways to think about and leverage its impact. One way to improve is to do a post-negotiation review after each meeting. Ask yourself and others working with you to discuss the presence of emotions in your position and your counterpart. Rather than simply noticing a partner’s anxious tendencies, dive deeper. Was the other person nervous, or were their feelings betraying themselves? Once you identify emotion on your side or the other, you possess a new set of assets many overlook for more substantive cues.

Let us know your experiences. Emotion in negotiation is a big topic that many in sales are only starting to scratch the surface of, so be brave and share (even if you are feeling a little reluctant)!

Joe Paranteau: B2B Sales Transformation Expert

Joe Paranteau

Joe Paranteau is a B2B sales powerhouse with an award-winning track record. He's spent decades in the tech world, driving major growth for giants like Microsoft and Oracle. But Joe's not just about theory – his strategies are battle-tested and supported by science. He's on a mission to help B2B sales teams crush their goals. Expect engaging content, inspiring keynotes, and the kind of hands-on coaching that fuels results. Ready to level up your sales game? Joe's your guy.


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