Less Stressful Negotiations

If just hearing the word “negotiation” makes your stomach hurt, if the idea of conflict makes you tense, if your first reaction to the idea of negotiating anything is to break out in a cold sweat of anxiety, friend, modern science has the cure for you!

This curative has been proven to boost your confidence and dissolve your fears. Tasks that seemed impossible prior to application are suddenly achievable; win friends, influence people and breathe a deep sigh of relief.

What, pray tell, is this cure-all for the anxious negotiator?

Why, friend, it’s your brain.

By Meet the People, Witness the Events Big Mind Zen Center via Flickr.com

By Meet the People, Witness the Events Big Mind Zen Center via Flickr.com

Social psychologist Ellen Langer researches neat things. One of the neat things she studies is mindfulness. Her research, and research from the neuroscience community, indicates that our experience of the world is heavily influenced by the words and ideas we attach to it.

This isn’t positive thinking, The Secret selling snake oil stuff that suggests you can order the world with your thoughts. Langer’s findings show that our assumptions about what an experience will be heavily influences our experience of that thing. Her research has shown that when we change our perspective about whether a task is work or play our enjoyment of the task changes accordingly.

Rather than define mindfulness as a heightened state of being attainable only through meditation and self-denial, Langer defines mindfulness simply: it is the act of noticing what is happening. When we divert our attention elsewhere, for instance to our fear of what might happen, we are mindless and ill equipped to manage the task at hand.

So what the heck does this have to do with making negotiations less stressful?

Much of the stress that accompanies negotiation is fear of what might happen if the negotiation doesn’t work out. Fear of what the other person might think of us. Fear of what the other person might try to pull over on us.

That anxiety is the result of mindlessness. It comes from focusing on something other than the negotiation that is currently taking place: the person talking with you, the problem that needs sorting out.

If anxiety takes over when you have to negotiate, here are a few mindfulness tips to help bring you back to the present moment and take care of business.

By Mariano Kamp via Flickr.com

By Mariano Kamp via Flickr.com

Say it loud and proud: “I am a negotiator; I negotiate.”
Most people who get nervous negotiating are nervous because they don’t think they can negotiate.

But the truth is we all negotiate all the time. It would be near impossible to live peacefully with other human beings without at least few negotiation skills up our sleeves. And if you have kids, ho boy!, you’re living with a 24/7 haggler of the highest order. Your negotiation chops are just fine.

But if anxious brain is in charge and telling you that you don’t know what you’re doing and you’re going to screw this up, you’re inclined to believe yourself.

Instead, before getting on the phone or going to that meeting, take a deep breath and tell yourself, “I’m a negotiator; I negotiate.” If it helps, say it out loud. If you don’t believe it the first time, say it until you do. Give yourself a positive, supportive voice to listen to.

Instead of asking “Can I do this?” ask, “How can I do this?”
Negotiations are problem solving puzzles. There is a problem that the two sides share and they are trying to figure out the best way of mutually solving that problem. If you can approach a negotiation as an interesting problem to solve, instead of as a super scary hair-on-fire clash of the titans, you’re in a far better position to be effective. You know how to solve problems; none of us know how to deal with a super scary hair-on-fire anything.

Instead of berating yourself with whether you have the ability to handle the negotiation, ask yourself how you might handle the negotiation. What might you do that could make this negotiation work? What are different ways you could solve the problem you’re facing?

Remember: people make sense (in context).
People rarely do things that aren’t in their best interest. Very few people will intentionally try to sabotage themselves or torpedo their very important project.

But that can be easy to forget when negotiating. We tend to be so keyed up thinking about what we want and how we see the situation that we view and interpret the other side’s actions from our own perspective. As a result, their actions can seem baffling or sinister.

The next time someone does something in a negotiation that makes you angry or is confusing, ask yourself, “What context would make that action make sense? Why might someone think that behavior would be beneficial?”

In negotiations we tend to think of the other side’s motivations as purely negative or at the very least not beneficial to us. Challenge yourself to also try and think of positive reasons why the other side may have behaved the way they did. Don’t be lazy and only assume the worst.

Armed with the possibilities uncovered by this thought experiment, you’re now in a much better position to negotiate with the other person. You can test the waters and see if they react well when you offer something tied to the positive motivation. You might even ask them outright, “I noticed you did X; if we were able to do Y could that address your concern?”

By B.C. Lorio via Flickr.com

By B.C. Lorio via Flickr.com

Being mindful when stressed can be very difficult, which it’s why it’s important to collect and use tactics that pull you back to the present and help you refocus on the task at hand. What are some ways you try to control your stress when you negotiate?

Langer recently spoke with Krista Tippett on the public radio show On Being. It was an interesting conversation and well worth a listen.

Categories: Self Awareness Tools


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2 responses to “Less Stressful Negotiations”

  1. Romi says:

    Personally, I´ve always seen myself as inexperienced in this area. To my surprise, I noticed I am not as bad as I thought. Absolutely agree that ´Negotiations are problem solving puzzles´ and we negotiate one way or the other in all our relationships.
    Interesting post!

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