5 ways to master your feelings in negotiation

17th July 2014
What’s the point of feelings when you’re in negotiation?

I recently read an article in the Harvard Business Review about how raising emotion and feelings can lead to smart people  making knee jerk decisions during negotiations with all the chaos that follows.

Read the article here

This article interested me for a few reasons. Firstly it dealt solely with the impact of raised emotion and how a negotiation can shift from getting the best deal – which usually means all parties getting a slice of the action – to ‘me, me, me’. This change in behaviour can happen very quickly.

Secondly it only dealt with the ‘hot’ points themselves and considered little of the context of the breaking points and what can be done to prevent them. When we look at things in the clear light of day, stopping a $3bn deal going through because of a $300 washing machine seems petty and foolish. But when under intense pressure little things can really get under our skin. We are in pain, we get angry and we want to take our toys away to play elsewhere. It becomes all about not wanting to share anymore. We can pass the point of brinkmanship simply because we do not want to concede one more millimetre to the other side and we don’t care about the outcome.

Its like something out of the Brothers Grimm Fairy tales, but accepting and working with your feelings during negotiations can make a huge difference. We all have the basic skills, but it’s a matter of honing them to give yourself an edge. We all feel something and we can fool ourselves that it does not matter.

Here are five ways to use as more feeling approach, and noticing those all-important signposts during negotiations and what you can do about it.

1) Awareness of what you are feeling. How are you feeling at this moment? Whatever feeling you bring into the room will influence what happens when you are in the room. Its important to consider what you are feeling during a negotiation. If you can feel the steam rising, that’s an important signal. The chances are you are taking it personally. Your protagonist is now an antagonist and, unless your negotiation technique is to grind people to dust, you are thinking out of context and the agenda has become personal. Your ability to recognise your feeling and to move as quickly as possible back into the context of the negotiation can reduce knee jerk reactions.

2) Responding to sudden changes in context. Unexpected shifts in context can confuse our thinking. Our ability to shift the focus from numbers to people and back without becoming defensive or aggressive is very useful.

3) Detecting micro facial expressions of emotion. If you can stay inquisitive you can stay calm. Try playing detective to with regard to what expressions you are seeing on people’s faces, especially just after you have asked a question. If you are someone who tends to look down when asking a difficult question you could be missing out on some valuable emotional cues.

4) Comfort in uncertainty. If you have to get a deal at a fixed price that is non-negotiable, maybe you’re starting from the wrong place. As soon as a target price/deal looks close, that’s when the feelings of certainty begin to arise. Our thinking can literally get ahead of itself, spending a commission, how happy your boss will be, are all future events that have not yet happened. Stay in the moment the best you can, its where your thinking is at your most agile, focused and clear. You can do this simply by staying in context, if you are not over the line yet don’t pretend to yourself the race is over.

5)  Detecting and responding to group think bias. An easy way to build up a head of emotional steam is to question the wisdom of a group’s thinking, especially when there is a lot at stake. A lack of diversity in your team can be very harmful but anyone who points this out tends to get shot down in flames. Recognise what others around you are feeling, and why. Who is agreeing with you simply because they can’t be bothered to think of anything else?

When it comes to negotiating, there’s more than enough guidance from books, articles, courses and workshops. Continuing awareness to what our body is telling us and learning how to use this information well sometimes requires coaching.


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