Preparing for a negotiation can be exhilarating.

That rush of adrenaline that comes with conflict; the challenge of puzzling out options and alternatives to give yourself the best deal; the pride in realizing that you’re standing up for yourself and your work.

And, sometimes, the sharp pain of punching yourself square in the nose.

If preparing for a negotiation turns into a defensive strategy focused on trying to avoid the horrible reaction you’re certain the other side will have, you are shadowboxing.  You are no longer preparing for a conversation with another person; you are fighting the worst boogie men your mind can conjure.

by jnyemb via

The line between solid preparation and shadowboxing can be easy to trip across, particularly if you naturally tend towards the anxious.  If conflict is something you find intimidating, shadowboxing is a tempting because it’s so much easier to fight against the devil you know.  Especially if the devil is of your own making.

So how do you tell the difference between realistic preparation and a fight against your worst nightmare?


  • focuses on what you want out of a situation
  • produces a number of options you could use during a negotiation
  • involves a great deal of information gathering from a number of sources

    by Andy Magee via

  • focuses on what could happen in the negotiation


  • focuses on what you want to avoid in the situation
  • imagines reactions you can have to someone’s bad behavior
  • involves little information gathering and is fed more by what you think the other person will do or say
  • focuses on the conflict that will happen

Our good friend Tim is going to show us what preparation and shadowboxing look like in the real world.

Tim needs to break his lease on his studio space because he’s found a new space that makes it easier for him to ship orders and is closer to his favorite printer.  Tim’s landlord, Chris, is a nice lady and Tim knows she’s been struggling with money.  There are a number of empty spaces in the building and another tenant left just last week.  There is a penalty fee of one month’s rent to break the lease early.

Let us now begin the Tale of Two Tims. (It was the best of Tims; it was the worst of Tims!)

Tim Shadowboxes

Tim’s pretty sure that Chris is going to be pissed about him leaving and will try and enforce the penalty provision in the lease.  Which he totally can’t afford right now, but he figures he’d owe.

by Cayusa via

In thinking about it, Tim realizes that Chris can be a bit pokey about dealing with maintenance issues and he’s pretty sure the last rent increase was more than the annual 3% allowed by the lease.

Tim decides that if Chris tries to enforce the penalty provision, he’ll counter with the late maintenance jobs and excessive rent hike; that should justify him only having to pay half of the penalty fee.

Tim Prepares

The cash for the penalty provision isn’t laying around collecting dust; Tim really can’t afford it with the move to the new studio.  But he figures it’s high for a reason — it sucks to miss out on rent that you thought was guaranteed and finding new tenants can be a pain.

Tim thinks about how he can help Chris avoid missing out on rent for the remainder of Tim’s lease and avoid the hassle of finding a new tenant.

Tim has a friend who is moving to town and was talking about needing studio space.  A quick call to said friend confirms that Tim’s rent is in his friend’s price range.

Tim decides he’ll approach Chris and offer his friend as a potential sublet for the remainder of his lease.  Chris will have to agree to consider Tim’s friend fairly, as she would any other tenant.  If the friend doesn’t work out, Tim will ask that Chris give him three weeks to find a qualified sublettor before Chris enforces the penalty provision.

The Difference

by parl via

Tim the Shadowboxer assumes he’s going to have to do something he doesn’t want to do and spends all of his energy figuring out how to lessen the blow.

Tim the Preparer understands there is a potential consequence and tries to figure out the reason behind the consequence.  Preparer Tim spends his time figuring out an alternative that fulfill’s Chris’ interest in a way that is helpful but doesn’t negatively impact what Tim wants and needs.

Shadowboxing focuses on the two parties’ postions and tries to avoid letting the otherside “win.”

Preparing focuses on the parties’ interests, the desires that are driving those positions, and tries to figure out alternative ways of meeting those wants and needs.

If you find yourself planning to avoid a confrontation instead of planning to engage in a negotiation, help yourself out by doing the following:

  • Ask yourself why the other side wants what they want and brainstorm other ways that want could be fulfilled.
  • Remind yourself that the contract is your fall back scenario — it’s what happens if you can’t figure something else out.  But it’s not set in stone.
  • Think beyond your relationship with the other side.  In conflict we usually spend a lot of time thinking about the person we’re in conflict with and don’t realize that we know people outside the situation that can help us out.
  • Talk to a friend.  Sometimes a new perspective is all you need to realize there are different ways you can solve the problem.

by unclefuz via

You’re going to get in a few scrapes as you practice negotiating because this stuff is hard.  Give yourself a break and reduce the number of people you have to fight with by one: you.

Featured image by Chapendra via

Categories: Self Awareness Tools

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