Research Article: And sympathy is what we need my friend—Polite requests improve negotiation results


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And sympathy is what we need my friend—Polite requests improve negotiation results

Date Published: March 13, 2019

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Yossi Maaravi, Orly Idan, Guy Hochman, Hillie Aaldering.


The wording negotiators use shapes the emotions of their counterparts. These emotions, in turn, influence their counterparts’ economic decisions. Building on this rationale, we examined how the language used during negotiation affects discount rate and willingness to engage in future deals. In three studies, participants assumed the role of retailers. Alleged counterparts (actually a computerized program) asked for a discount under three conditions: request, want, and demand. Results show that less extreme language (request/want) resulted in better outcomes than demanding a discount. Moreover, while the language used by the customer had an effect on experienced emotions, the positive emotions (sympathy and empathy) participants felt toward the customer mediated the relationship between the linguistic cue and the negotiation outcome. Our results inform both psycholinguistic research and negotiation research by demonstrating the causal role of linguistic cues in activating concept-knowledge relevant to different emotional experiences, and point to the down-the-line impact on shaping negotiation preferences.

Partial Text

Negotiation is an important social phenomenon, for we all negotiate on a day-to-day basis with our business partners, colleagues, friends and even family members. In a typical negotiation, one party makes the first offer, his or her counterpart responds, and from there on the negotiation evolves until it reaches an agreement or an impasse [1]. In distributive negotiations, in which the process is competitive and the gain of one negotiator is the loss of the other, the rate of discount is of significance to both parties [2]. Additionally, a negotiation situation could be one incident in an established long-term relationship. Thus, discount rate and the continuation of the relationship, which consequently influences the willingness to engage in future deals, are important aspects in negotiation outcomes [3,4]. Previous research has focused on different dimensions of the negotiation process which may lead to different outcomes, such as the first offer and the way it affects the counteroffer (e.g. [5]), alternatives within the negotiation process [6], cultural differences [7], politeness [8], and reference points, such as the current market data [9]. The current research focuses on the role of language in the context of negotiations, acknowledging its potential as a tool for promoting successful negotiation outcomes.

Psycholinguistic research on the power of language suggests that language has the power to shape emotions [10] within a persuasion framework [11] as well as shaping negotiating preferences [12]. Building on this line of research, in the current work we explored an extremely subtle means of inducing preferences in the context of negotiations. Specifically, we examined whether subtle differences in asking for a discount (request, want, or demand) in the context of negotiations would induce different levels of emotions and in turn, different outcomes. Results across three experimental studies supported this prediction for the most part of: language extremity influenced the negotiators’ emotions, which in turn led to significant changes in the negotiation outcomes. Linguistic cues influenced negotiation outcomes, such that requesting or asking for a discount led to higher discount rate and willingness to engage in future deals relative to demanding. It is important to note that initially we assumed that linguistic extremity would have a linear effect. However, interestingly, this is not the case. It appears that there is a “threshold effect” in which only when the language becomes extreme enough, a threshold is crossed and consequently our emotions and decisions are altered. In addition, the negotiator’s emotions mediated between linguistic cues and the negotiation outcome, such that positive emotions mediated this effect, but only when the linguistic cues were portrayed in the responders’ native tongue.

Related Research: The Cambridge Sympathy Test: Self-reported sympathy and distress in autism

Keywords: sympathy, compassionate, polite, negotiation



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