A new study in the Journal of Applied Psychology shows that, in many cases, crying or showing other signs of sadness gives you leverage in business negotiations.
By setting up a series of experimental negotiations between more than 200 graduates from a French university, Shirli Kopelman and her team at the University of Michigan found that the person expressing greater sadness tended to get their way more often.
Beyond crying, actions that did the trick included looking down, looking gloomy and a using words indicative of sadness.
However, it only really works if you're in a fairly vulnerable position – crying in front of people you manage is unlikely to give you any kind of boost. "We find, for example, that sadness influenced concessions when the person expressing genuine sadness was perceived to have low power," the authors said.
So if you seem powerless and in need to something, a neutral negotiator is more likely to feel social responsibility to help you out.
But even among those who are most vulnerable, it's not always helpful to show emotion – it completely depends on the circumstances, according to Kopelman. So in this experiment, where discussions were around developing, manufacturing and marketing new medicines, expressing sadness helped. In other situations, such as a job interview, it is likely to cause nothing but harm.
"It’s important to consider the broader context and whether expressing an emotion you feel would be considered appropriate," Kopelman said.
For example, expressing sadness may or may not be appropriate during a job interview. If culturally and socially appropriate in a specific negotiation, it is then important to understand how expressing an emotion may influence the conversation.