Negotiation Lesson #7 - Know Thyself: Preparing Your Inner Negotiator

January 30, 2017 By Irma Tyler Wood

In preparing for a negotiation, a negotiator has two kinds of work to do, outer work and inner work.  Outer work refers to work that is tangible, and is or will be visible both to the negotiator and to those with whom he/she is negotiating.  Outer work involves things like doing research, developing a strategy, and then implementing that preparation and strategy at the negotiation table.  It involves the actions and words of the negotiator at the negotiation table. It also involves anticipating the interests, needs goals and concerns of the other negotiator and preparing to address them.  The focus in outer work is on getting prepared to deal with the other negotiator.

Inner work is invisible, intangible and difficult to measure, yet it is as important as any outer work a negotiator does.  Inner work asks a negotiator to look within themselves and assess, his or her own temperament, strengths, weaknesses, insecurities, fears and internal triggers.  Inner work is what allows a negotiator to remain calm, confident and focused when the going gets tough.  Inner work is what allows a negotiator to be non-reactive in the face of the unexpected or provocative.  Inner work is all about self-awareness, self- knowledge and self-control.  The focus in inner work is getting prepared to deal with yourself.

Self-Knowledge:  If you know that you are not confident or skilled with finance and budgets and that this will be a vital part of the negotiations and that your lack of knowledge makes you fearful or tentative, get expert help either in your preparation phase or by bringing the expert to the table as a member of your team.

Self-Awareness: If you know that you tend to be intimidated by people who have greater status, power and authority than you do, reflect on things you can do to counter that tendency in the upcoming negotiations.  Reflect on the things that give you power in the negotiation.  Use your power as a foundation for confidence.  If you know you tend to lose your temper with someone who yells, pounds on the table or is condescending during a negotiation, reflect on why these behaviors hook you, what your goals for this negotiation are, what your BATNA is (See blog #6).

Long before it is visible to the other party, your body sends you signals that you are going into, “fight or flight,” mode, increased heart rate, shallow breathing, shortness of breath, perspiration, tense body muscles, etc.  Pay attention to those signals, ask yourself why you are feeling this way and then take appropriate actions to give yourself relief.  That action can be as simple as taking a deep breath or a five minute break, or as explicit as saying, “I’d like to slow things down so that we are both able to hear and understand the issues in this negotiation.”

Develop a plan/strategy and prepare responses that will allow you to remain calm or to respond in an assertive, non-reactive way.  I remember saying to a yeller and screamer, “I can’t think when you yell and scream and if I can’t think, we aren’t going to make any progress in this negotiation.  Shall we take a break so that both of us can calm down?”

Finally, before the negotiation, practice those responses with a trusted friend playing the obnoxious or intimidating negotiator or by switching roles and you playing the obnoxious negotiator and your friend playing you.  You can get useful insight on your own responses, on the other negotiator and on how to respond.  Other options include selecting a team member who has strengths you lack and vice versa or bringing a silent partner to the negotiation.  The silent partner says nothing in the negotiation, they simply observe and take notes and gives you feedback during breaks or in between negotiating sessions. 

Self-Management:  Musicians, athletes, chefs, all have instruments they use to perfect their craft.  As a negotiator, you are your instrument.  Take care of your instrument physically, emotionally and spiritually.  Meditate, rest, take regular breaks, exercise, eat healthy meals and drink plenty of water.  Avoid negotiating when you are ill, fatigued or overwhelmed.  In the middle of a tense negotiation take deep breaths, stretch, take a break if you need one.  Don’t ever allow yourself to be verbally abused or physically intimidated.  Name what is happening and give clear warning that if it continues you will walk away from the negotiations or simply get up and walk away.  If someone is pressuring you to make a decision you don’t feel ready to make, name it and suggest an alternative way of proceeding, i.e., “I’m feeling pressured and I don’t make good decisions when I’m feeling pressured.  I’d like to sleep on it and resume our discussions tomorrow.”

Building internal awareness of your strengths and weaknesses at the negotiating table before you negotiate is the first step to being able to choose to respond differently.  Planning and practicing alternative responses, reduces fear and anxiety and increases confidence.  Insuring that you are mentally, physically and spiritually ready to negotiate increases your inner confidence.  Increased confidence allows one to stay focused and calm.  Inner confidence, focus and calm allows one to negotiate better outcomes. There are never guaranteed outcomes but a disciplined way of integrating the inner and outer work in negotiation will provide maximum opportunity for success.