How to Keep your Emotions in Check While Negotiating

Happy Face and Sad Face on ChalkboardEmotions such as anger, fear, or not feeling valued have caused many negotiations to escalate out of control and have destroyed relationships. However, when channeled positively, emotions are a good thing. For example, empathy can help promote understanding and facilitate communication so that both counterparts can achieve their goals. Good or bad, emotions make us human and define who we are.

Anais Nin said, “We don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are.” The challenge with negative emotions such as anger, fear, and not feeling valued is that they divert our focus from the broader goals (i.e. what really matters) towards things which may or may not be important to the outcome of the negotiation. For example, let’s say your counterpart threatens you with a lawsuit if they can’t get their way. Most likely, this comment will trigger both anger and a lack of trust toward your counterpart. Regardless of whether the counterpart files a lawsuit or calls you a derogatory name, you will make better decisions if you keep your negative emotions in check and focus on your most important goals.

When you don’t trust your counterpart or are uncertain about the outcome of a negotiation, you might become preoccupied with negative thoughts about them or ruminate over potential bad outcomes. This preoccupation leads to fear. It’s important to know that in order to eliminate fear, you must eliminate this preoccupation and become totally engaged and focused on the preparation you have completed prior to the negotiation and the strategy you are executing to accomplish your goal.

On the other hand, I’ve been involved in several negotiations where I specifically said something to trigger the emotions of my counterpart. For example, I once told a Union President that even if I did make a concession, it wouldn’t matter because he lacked clout with his membership and wouldn’t be able toget the deal point approved. The Union President’s reaction? He became irate and started yelling at me. That was exactly my goal. As long as he was yelling at me, he wasn’t asking for another concession. It was a great strategy.

Although it’s fun from time to time to get your counterpart wrapped around the axel of emotions, it’s not in your best interest to do so. The following seven tips will help you keep your emotions in check and your focus on the broader picture.

  1. Be aware of your emotions early on: When you feel your emotions starting to rise, you’re still in a good position to do and say the things that will help you advance your goals. On the other hand, when you are unaware of your emotions as they begin to rise, you’re more likely do or say something that will jeopardize the relationship and undermine your goals

  2. Be positive: Don’t negotiate or communicate when you’re in a foul mood because you’re likely say something that will make it even more difficult to get your counterpart to concede to your goals. There is a lot of research that shows that when both parties have a positive attitude about the negotiation, they will be more successful in generating a mutually acceptable outcome

  3. Assume positive intent: Make a positive assumption about your counterpart’s intentions. If you are uncertain about their intent, ask strong questions to clarify their goals

  4. Be well prepared: When you are not prepared, your mind has a difficult time focusing and will wander off in multiple directions

  5. Create a plan with options: Determine what is causing you to be stressed and create a plan, with options, to ensure the negative outcome does not materialize

  6. Be honest: When you manipulate data or don’t tell the truth, it only complicates matters and makes the relationship more stressful

  7. Get up in the balcony: A deal is a deal, whether it is with a good friend or a business acquaintance. If you visualize the transaction from up in the balcony as a third party, rather than an actor on stage in the middle of the play, you will find it is much easier to leave your emotions outside and respond much more objectively

Emotions are unavoidable and are a big part of being alive. While it’s impossible to not have emotions, with the above tips, it is possible to suppress the expression of the feelings and behaviors behind your emotions.

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