Flexible negotiations lead to a heart attack
We all believe that staying flexible by trying different strategies when negotiating a difficult interaction is optimal. However, this may not be the case if the situation cannot be resolved.
Researchers at Arizona State University show that more flexible approach to resolving a conflict interaction results in more frustration and anger. An ASU doctoral student in clinical psychology Danielle Roubinov and two other ASU researchers observed a sample of 65 undergraduate students role-playing a stressful task with a "neighbour" who was portrayed by a research assistant.
Participants were told that the neighbour was playing music too loudly and were instructed to ask the neighbour to turn down his or her music. During the interaction, the RAs followed a script of uncooperative responses such that the task could not be resolved.
The ASU team also looked at the intensity of participants' facial expressions of anger or frustration, and measured participants' biological response to the task using cortisol, a stress hormone.
"Our results indicated that greater flexibility may not be the healthiest approach," Roubinov said.
"Unlike less-flexible participants, those who tried a greater variety of responses showed more intense facial expressions of anger and frustration. Cortisol levels in more flexible participants also reflected an unhealthier biological response to stress than the less flexible participants."
The findings in "Flexibility in responding to interpersonal conflict predicts cortisol and emotional reactivity" suggest that in an uncontrollable situation, individuals who use a smaller variety of verbal responses to stress may have more favourable outcomes than those who use a greater variety of responses.
"Although being flexible in how you respond to different situations may be beneficial, continuously trying different ways to work out the same situation may lead to greater anger, frustration, and an unhealthier biological response," Roubinov said. ■