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How Anxiety Influences Negotiation

Students often come to careers services for advice on if and how to negotiate their starting salaries. They are nervous that they may be leaving money on the table or that their attempts to negotiate may change how the offering employer perceives their candidacies. Often I am asked by students whether a request to negotiate could be met with a rescinded offer to which I can only respond that it is unlikely, but possible. All of their concern first about whether they will get an offer at all and then, once they do, how to handle it adds up to a lot of anxiety for these new job seekers.

In a recent article, Emotion and the Art of Negotiation (Harvard Business Review, December 2015), author Alison Woods Brooks discusses the role that anxiety can have on the negotiation process. She found during a negotiation experiment that

People experiencing anxiety made weaker first offers, responded more quickly to each move the counterpart made, and were more likely to exit negotiations early (even though their instructions clearly warned that exiting early would reduce the value they received from the negotiation). Anxious negotiators made deals that were 12% less financially attractive than those made by negotiators in the neutral group. We did discover one caveat, however: People who gave themselves high ratings in a survey on negotiating aptitude were less affected by anxiety than others.

The entire article is well worth a read, but I thought it important to highlight the role that anxiety can play on the negotiation process – especially with articles in the Chronicle and on PBS News Hour highlighting the general increase in anxiety in the current college student population.

My main takeaway from the article is to set-up more opportunities for students to practice their negotiation skills. Similar to interviews, the more students participate in mock salary negotiations, the more likely they are to feel comfortable and in control when the real situation presents itself. As Brooks states “Anxiety is often a response to novel stimuli, so the more familiar the stimuli, the more comfortable and the less anxious you will feel.”


As a side note, if you don’t have a subscription to the Harvard Business review or have the time to do much extra reading, I highly recommend HBR’s Ideacast, which is available in podcast form through iTunes and online. The episodes are fairly short, typically about 15 minutes, and many touch on ideas related to job search and career development.

12.15IMG_0122About the author:
Jill Wesley is the Director of Career Services at the College at Brockport. Previously, she worked in Career Services at Harrison College and Purdue University. She holds a BA (English) from Dartmouth College, and MBA from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and a JD from Indiana University-Indianapolis.

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