To succeed in business, try saying what you feel, MIT Sloan professor advises

Daniel Shapiro Professor Daniel Shapiro

Research finds that dealing with emotions can help the bottom line as well as the psyche

CAMBRIDGE, Mass., Nov. 17, 2009 — If there is one well-established business principle that needs to be scrapped, it's the idea that emotions must always be kept in check, according to Daniel I. Shapiro, a visiting professor at MIT Sloan School of Management and a trained clinical psychologist.

Expressing emotions in a thoughtful and directed way can unlock the potential of individuals and organizations, says Shapiro.

"People in the corporate world become aware of emotions and get scared and try to get rid of them," says Shapiro. "But in my research and consulting, I've found that emotions can be your most effective lever in your interactions with other people."

A member of the faculties of both Harvard Law School and Harvard Medical School, Shapiro is a leading expert on negotiating and conflict resolution. He has worked with rival parties in the Middle East conflict and the Bosnian War, and he has assisted hostage negotiators. He is associate director of the Harvard Negotiation Project and chair of the World Economic Forum's Global Agenda Council on Negotiation and Conflict Resolution.

In recent years, Shapiro has been applying the insights he gained studying international conflicts to relationships in the business world. "People in business are negotiating all the time. It's perhaps the key asset of any business person, the ability to negotiate effectively," he says.

In earlier research, Shapiro and Harvard colleague Roger Fisher determined that a key to successful negotiating is dealing with emotions. Their findings and advice on how to apply them are detailed in the best-selling 2005 book, Beyond Reason: Using Emotions as You Negotiate.

The book describes five core concerns that trigger emotions in people—appreciation, autonomy, affiliation, status, and role. Successful negotiators monitor these concerns in both themselves and other people, according to Shapiro.

"Appreciation is a very powerful core concern. People will sacrifice a great amount for appreciation, and if they don't feel appreciated, they don't do a very good job," he says. "It is one of the primary reasons organizations falter."

Autonomy also is critical to people . "None of us likes to be told what to do—not at home, not at work," he says.

People also care deeply about their affiliations. "If we are involved in a team project, do I see you as an adversary or are we working as colleagues? If we have problems, can we turn them into something we're working on side-by- side."

The emotions surrounding status can impede negotiations if not handled constructively, according to Shapiro. "Competition over status gets you nowhere. It's important to respect the status of other people and make sure your status gets respected as well," he says.

And people need to be clear about their roles and try to define them in ways that move negotiations forward, Shapiro says. "If others see you as an adversary, is there a way to change it to a joint problem solver or a listener or a friend?"

Shapiro recommends being aware of the core concerns when so-called negative emotions arise. "If someone is angry or if I'm angry, I want to understand what's going on. The answer is usually readily accessible if you understand the core concerns."

Shapiro has consulted with many businesses, including Starbucks and Microsoft. He says that companies that recognize the importance of emotions benefit in many ways.

"People are excited to work there. They stay later and work with more passion and motivation," Shapiro says. "For the company, there are important instrumental benefits. For the individuals there is the intrinsic value of enjoying life more."

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