Keep-Calm-and-Carry-On-May-Not-Be-BestNegotiators are told to keep an even keel when in negotiations, don’t get too excited, down or angry. It should inspire confidence in your client and show the other party you’re in control. But burying that anger may not always help, according to a study discussed in Science Daily.

Suppressing anger about important points can cause negotiators to lose focus on important issues, according to Bo Shao of the University of New South Wales in Australia. Though there is much information available about the impact of how anger is experienced and expressed in negotiations, relatively little is known about how suppressing anger impacts negotiations. Shao and his team looked at how and when anger suppression impacts negotiators’ mental states and their performance.

In the study 204 undergraduate students from a university in the United States participated in an online negotiation experiment. Nearly half of them felt heated emotions unrelated to the negotiation by being shown a video clip of a bully in action. The person negotiating with the participants was intentionally provocative. The tactics included telling the participants what to do, labelling their behaviors negatively and making accusations of intentional violations.

Negotiators didn’t become mentally exhausted when they tried to suppress their anger. Instead, they lost focus if they tried to suppress their feelings about important issues. The same didn’t happen when the negotiators controlled their anger about an incidental matter.

“These findings cast doubts on the belief that negotiators should always suppress their anger,” Shao is quoted as saying. “To be effective, negotiators should be aware when it is detrimental or not to do so, and adopt strategies that help them maintain their focus.”

Anger can have both positive and negative impacts during negotiations, according to Allan Filipowicz, a professor of management and organizations at Cornell University. Showing anger allows you to claim more value, because of the implied threat in the anger.  For this to work you need to be in a more powerful position than the other party.  Showing anger will likely result in impasses as the other party becomes more likely to do economically irrational things just to get even.  There will also be more relational costs (you won’t be liked).  Filipowicz’ advice,

If one starts happy and then becomes angry, one gets all the economic benefits of displaying anger (claiming more value), but none of the relational costs…the other person catches, via emotional contagion, your initial happiness, which mutes the impact of your subsequent anger; and in part because of the attributions made about the cause of the anger following happiness (“probably due to the situation”) versus steady state anger (“he’s probably a jerk”).  Don’t start angry.

Anger can have its benefits and costs, while suppressing anger can impact your focus. Anger in negotiations is like fire. It can do useful things or you can end up getting burned. Controlling the fire will take some experience but could help your client once you get the hang of it.