December 14, 2015

Prepare Your Emotional Strategy for Negotiating


Negotiating is an interpersonal process. Making deals involves individual interests that conflict, oftentimes giving rise to anger and anxiety. Most people prepare a legal and business strategy going into a negotiation that focuses on talking points, offers and counteroffers. Rarely do people plan out their emotional strategy for what is essentially an emotionally charged conversation. Building rapport before, during and after a negotiation is key to achieving successful outcomes. The best negotiators also know how to convey credibility, self-control and competence while making their counterparts feel that they won as well.

Ground-breaking research in negotiation, conflict resolution and group decision making at Columbia University and Harvard conducted by Keith Allred demonstrates that feelings of anger and frustration during a negotiation lead to:

  • Escalating conflict
  • Biasing perceptions
  • Making impasses and stalemates
  • Reducing joint gains
  • Decreasing cooperation
  • Intensifying competitive behavior
  • Increasing offer rejection rates
  • Reducing accuracy of recalling our own interest and of judging other parties’ interests
  • Increasing the chance of harm and retaliation
  • Diminishing trust

To counteract these negative consequences and to avoid undesirable outcomes, prepare an emotional strategy that includes the following:

  1. Be assertive. Express your needs, wants and feelings directly and honestly. Don’t assume you are correct or that everyone will feel the same way. Allow others to hold other views without dismissing or insulting them. Make sure your body is relaxed (stretch and breathe before) and that your movements are casual. Make your eye contact frequent, but don’t glare. Remember that your needs and those of others are equally important. You have equal rights to express yourselves. You both have something valuable to contribute. You are responsible for your behavior. When you feel positive about yourself and the way you treat others, your self-esteem will rise. Both you and others in the negotiation keep your self respect. Express yourself without having to win all the time. No one controls anyone else. (From The Assertiveness Workbook by Randy J. Paterson, PhD)
  2. Be collaborative. People with limited experience making deals assume that negotiation is a zero-sum game in which their own interests conflict directly with their counterpart’s. More experienced negotiators view negotiations in collaborative terms rather than competitive ones. They recognize the fixed-pie bias and look for ways to expand the pie through collaboration. The best negotiators create value for everyone and strive to make counterparts feel pleased about the outcome.
  3. Be empathetic. Emotionally intelligent negotiators consider how their counterparts are likely to feel about the possible outcomes, and aim to reduce disappointment, acknowledge feelings and manage expectations. Think, in advance, about things you might do during the negotiation that would trigger your counterparts to feel angry. Avoid angering your counterparts, as they are likely to walk away. Listen and seek to understand how the people across the table feel to build connection and rapport.
  4. Be excited and hopeful. Express forward-looking excitement and energize the negotiation with a positive and productive tone. Plan for what they may do or ask to make you feel anxious, and prepare answers to tough questions to stay calm and collected in the moment. Make a list of desirable outcomes, specifying what you hope and expect to achieve…but be willing to adjust items on your list throughout the negotiation to allow for alternative possibilities.

**If you have more time, read this great article:

Lee Broekman is an author, professor, trainer and coach. Her company Organic Communication, brings interactive, never boring, always edifying presentations and programs — focused on communication, collaboration and innovation — to your firm or organization.

Find her latest book Successful (Happy) Lawyering on