I kinda feel bad for Mel Gibson and Tiger Woods (he said whilst evading flying objects and hostile emails). I agree they are terrible husbands, have done awful things and have more money than I could imagine how to spend (although my imagination can be pretty ambitious if I have some time). However, there are few people in history who have experienced the unique sensation of watchinig one’s serious (non-criminal, as of yet) character defects scrutinized by over a billion people within a 24-hour news cycle. Neither man was torturing puppies or attacking old ladies. This is a matter of broken hearts, not broken laws (again, as of now).
(Update: I've never been very politically correct. My comments above are based on the fact that no charges have been filed against anyone involved. Thanks to DA for pointing out that charges may still be coming for Gibson. When that happens, my opinion may significantly change. In the meantime, I can't make any assumptions about the status of law enforcement investigations.)
What’s intriguing about these breakups (beyond the obvious) has been the seemingly opposite tactics utilized by Gibson and Woods in resolving them. Mel's Anger vs. Tiger’s accommodation. Mel’s rejection vs. Tiger’s rehab. Mel’s accusations vs. Tiger's apologies. One would suspect that the public stances Gibson and Woods have taken in these disputes would not be terribly far from the private positioning at a mediation table. This begs the question, which technique is more effective?
A study from the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology examined the effects of “angry negotiators” versus “happy negotiators”. The authors demonstrated that coming to the table angry does in fact cause the other side to ask for less and give more. However, much to Mel’s chagrin, the research also indicated that this “angry tactic” only works when the opponent feels low power in the relationship, had a low need for cognitive closure, or were under low time pressure. As Oksana heads for “Dancing with the Stars”, I’m not getting a low-power state of mind.
One must also remember the that personality and cultural background of the opponent in a negotiation will heavily alter tactics. An article from the Association for Psychological Science compared European American and Asian/Asian American reactions to anger in negotiations. The study found that “appropriate” anger during negotiations caused large concessions from both European American and Asian/Asian American opponents. However, “inappropriate” anger caused the Asian/Asian American negotiators to significantly reduce their level of concession and increase impasse. This begs the question, what is the “appropriate” level of anger of Elin Nordegren to display towards Mr. Woods?
It would be easy to imagine Tiger empathizing with Elin’s plight, but research out of Psychological Science suggests this is not a good idea for achieving a favorable settlement. They discovered that it is far more helpful to focus on the other side’s logical perspective and goals, rather than their emotional state of mind. As one of the study’s authors put it:
“Negotiators give themselves an advantage by thinking about what is motivating the other party, by getting inside their head… Perspective-taking gives you insights into how to structure a deal that can benefit both parties. But unfortunately in negotiations, empathizing makes you more concerned about making the other party happy, which can sometimes come at your own expense.”
Interestingly, there is further research that supports the theory of keeping focused on your own emotions. Another article from Psychological Science asked people to play “the ultimatum game” and try to find the most beneficial settlement that both parties could accept. The results established that emotional self-talk significantly influenced negotiated outcomes. The study concluded that those who were primed to “trust their own emotions” fared much better in resulting agreements than those who did not give themselves confidence building pep talks.
So, what is the answer? If you sit down at the table too angry it may shut the other side down. If you sit down at the table too happy it may get you fleeced. If you try to empathize with your opponents then you may lose your own perspective, but empathizing with yourself is an odd path to victory.
Honestly, as a current litigation consultant and former mediator I have not yet found the silver bullet for negotiating conflict. However, I will leave with a favorite quote from Lance Morrow to aid Mel and Tiger on their search for settlement:
“Never forget the power of silence, that massively disconcerting pause which goes on and on and may at last induce an opponent to babble and backtrack nervously.”
If you can master the skill of silence, the world is your oyster.
Blogger: Matt McCusker