Focus On Core Concerns When Negotiating

I’ve recently been reading “Beyond Reason: Using Emotions as You Negotiate” by Roger Fisher, coauthor of the bestselling “Getting To Yes” and Daniel Shapiro, associate director , Harvard Negotiation Project. It is an interesting book with some valuable explanations of how we can channel emotions by respecting five concerns which enable negotiators to reach mutually beneficial results.

The book is based on the premise that we negotiate daily and we have emotions all the time. Since we cannot eliminate emotions, “Beyond Reason” offers a strategy to generate positive emotions and to deal with negative ones. The book builds upon “Getting to Yes” which was coauthored by Fisher and is considered a foundation for interest-based negotiation, a process that suggests that negotiators obtain the best results by understanding each other’s interests and working together to produce an agreement that will meet those interests as best they can.

Emotions will have an impact on negotiations, whether we acknowledge them or not. Rather than dealing with each and every emotion that we have, and that our opponents are feeling, “Beyond Reason” presents a strategy where you turn your attention to what generates these emotions. According to the authors, “Core concerns are human wants that are important to almost everyone in virtually every negotiation. They are often unspoken but are no less real than our tangible interests. Even experienced negotiators are often unaware of the many ways in which these concerns motivate their decisions.”

The five core concerns that stimulate many emotions during negotiations are appreciation, affiliation, autonomy, status, and role. By dealing effectively with these concerns, you can stimulate positive emotions. The five concerns are not distinct from one another, but merge together with each contributing toward the stimulation of emotions. Therefore, each concern must be met to the appropriate extent, which will be different in each negotiation. These concerns can be used to understand the emotional experience of each party as well as a lever to stimulate positive emotions in parties. Lets briefly look at each concern, emotions that arise from each concern, and what people are prone to do once those emotions arise.


When a person is appreciated, resulting emotions can be enthusiastic, affectionate, cheerful, and caring. A person feeling these emotions will often be prone to cooperate more. A person who is unappreciated will often feel angry and disgusted. These emotions often lead to a person being prone to react negatively and contrary to desired interests.


When a person is treated as a colleague they tend to feel more amused, compassionate and ecstatic. These emotions tend to make a person more prone to work together. The person who is treated as an adversary is more apt to feel resentful or irritated. This person will be more prone to go it alone rather than work together.


When a person’s freedom to decide is acknowledged, emotions such as being proud, happy, and accomplished are evoked. These emotions tend to make a person prone to being creative. On the other hand, when autonomy is impinged, the emotions of guilt, shame, and remorse often arise, leading to a person thinking more rigidly.


When a person’s status is recognized, they will often feel more calm, relieved, and relaxed. This tends to make a person more prone to be trustworthy. When a person’s status is put down they will feel humiliated and embarrassed. People with these feelings often are more prone to act deceptively and be seen as untrustworthy. (Note that they are seen as untrustworthy, not necessarily actually untrustworthy.)


When a person’s role is fulfilling and includes activities that illustrate and convince the person that they make a difference, the feelings of hope arise. Hopeful people tend to be prone more toward trustworthiness similar to the above description related to status. When a person’s role is trivialized and restricted they may feel envious, jealous, or become apathetic. As with the description of status, these feelings tend to make a person more prone to act in the eyes of their opposition deceptively and be seen as untrustworthy.


Negotiators often assume that the best way to negotiate is purely rational. Hostile emotions easily escalate and cause problems. However, according to Jamil Mahuad, Former President of Ecuador, emotions can be helpful. In 1998, a fifty-year boundary dispute between Ecuador and Peru ended through the successful negotiation between Jamil Mahuad, president of Ecuador (1998-2000), and Alberto Fujimori, president of Peru (1990-2000). President Mahuad took two negotiation courses at Harvard with Fisher and a seminar with both Fisher and Shapiro regarding the core concerns outlined above. He contributed to “Beyond Reason” by sharing his creative use of the five concerns when negotiating to resolve the Peru-Ecuador border dispute. According to Mahuad, he took the initiative and acted upon each of the core concerns – appreciation, affiliation, autonomy, status, and role when going into the negotiations with President Fujimori. Doing this enabled him to establish good rapport, a strong working relationship, and a stable agreement.

During your next negotiation, determine how you can meet these core concerns in others as well as in yourself. Express appreciation. Build a sense of affiliation. Respect each person’s autonomy and status. Help shape roles to be fulfilling. According to Fisher and Shapiro, doing this will turn a negotiation from a stressful, worrisome interaction into a side-by-side dialogue where each of you listens, learns, and respects the other. This undoubtedly will improve your outcome. If these concerns can help the presidents of two countries resolve a fifty-year dispute, they just might help you negotiate successfully as well.