Angela Obree is an Effective Negotiation Semester Teaching Fellow at Bond University.
I have spent the last two decades negotiating in corporate boardrooms, mediations, and more recently, attempting to negotiate getting a pair of shoes onto my toddler to make it out of the door on time.
Negotiation is often seen as a battle of wits, but it also comes down to a battle of wills. Even the most thoroughly prepared negotiation strategy can be derailed by emotions when anxiety or anger end up in charge.
Whether negotiating a multi-billion-dollar deal or extending a deadline with a colleague, here are a few tips I have picked up along the way.
When buying a house, it is all about location, location, location. With negotiation, the key is preparation, preparation, preparation. Most people do not prepare nearly enough for a negotiation. I don’t just mean having all your documents and facts in order, though that is critical too, but also to invest time in preparing your emotional response. Consideration should be given to what you might feel, how it might cause you to react and what impact that could have on the outcome you want. Emotion is important, it means you care, but just as important is knowing what to expect from yourself and how to manage it.
Know your triggers
When faced with classic power plays during a negotiation such as a stab at credibility, or general affront from across the table, I pause briefly to remind myself to ‘separate the people from the problem’ (a term coined by Fisher and Ury in their book ‘Getting to Yes’). I have led negotiations where the parties involved have attacked my team from start to finish, but we remain focused on the issue at hand, and ‘ignore the noise’ to find a good outcome. Consider your own possible triggers – most often they will relate to aspects of the deal that relate to you personally such as your key performance indicators, your business or your reputation – make sure that you have a strategy in place to manage your reaction.
Take a break
One tip I always give students or clients is to take a break as needed. If you can feel yourself being triggered into reacting with anger, or anxiety is clouding your thought processes, it is absolutely fine and in fact essential to take five minutes to compose yourself and consider the best way to respond. Anger can derail a negotiation. When the parties are angry it can be almost impossible to negotiate effectively. You might still get an outcome, but it is often not a good deal, or one which becomes impossible to implement and ultimately unravel. Do not be afraid to take some time out, consider what options your reaction might lead to, and then take a moment to plan your response.
Gently mitigate anger across the table
Negotiating with someone who is angry is like trying to add more liquid into a shaken-up bottle of soda. It is impossible to do so until the bottle has finished frothing and fizzing and spilling over. When someone is angry, trying to negotiate is futile, they will not hear anything you have to say until they have had a chance to explode. So let them explode. Listen carefully, don’t interrupt and give them visual cues to let them know you are genuinely listening. Once the bottle has stopped frothing over, the real discussions can begin.
Reflect and learn
Schedule time to debrief after every important negotiation as this is one of the keys to future success. Reflecting on how it went, and particularly how you handled the emotional aspects can offer some perspective on what might work better next time. Consider what might have triggered you, or how you may have inadvertently triggered your opposing party. This seemingly small step will help you be even better prepared for your next battle of wits and wills.