Are you emotionally prepared to negotiate?

feature-handshake-200Until recently, most texts have regarded emotion as an impediment to reaching constructive agreements. But the truth is that your passions matter in real-life deal-making and dispute resolution.

You need to understand, channel and learn from your emotions to adapt to the situation at hand and engage others successfully. That means you need to be emotionally prepared to negotiate, and you need to sense the first stirrings of your own feelings so that you don’t tense up, tune out or explode. Being an effective manager, a high-performance team member or a skilled negotiator requires attunement to one’s own emotions and the ability to relate affirmatively to the emotions of others. That insight has driven much of the work in the field of emotional intelligence.

The concept was novel 15 years ago but is now familiar, thanks largely to the psychologist Daniel Goleman. His popular books on the topic drew heavily on the research of Peter Salovey, of Yale, and John D Mayer, of the University of New Hampshire, and built on their definition of emotional intelligence as “the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and actions.”

Specifically, emotionally intelligent people have the capacity to:

  • identify the emotions they and others are experiencing;
  • understand how those emotions affect their thinking;
  • use that knowledge to achieve better outcomes;
  • productively manage emotions, tempering or intensifying them for whatever purpose.

The heart of the matter

Some negotiators seem to be naturals: they can sense the emotional state of other parties and respond effectively in the moment. They are able to navigate complicated situations and elicit constructive engagement from people who might not otherwise be cooperative.

That ability does not come easily to some others. But developing poise and balance is possible, although it requires confronting what it is about negotiation that stresses so many. That has been the focus of our research. The stakes can be high in a business context, of course.

A sales manager may need to nail down a deal with a key customer to meet his quarterly target. Someone in procurement may need to negotiate favourable terms on a key component so that her company’s product can stay competitively priced. Corporate counsel may want to settle an intellectual property suit rather than risk going to court. People respond differently to such demands, for reasons of temperament but also of circumstance.

We have found that people regard the negotiation experience as inherently stressful for three particular reasons.

The first is lack of control. People negotiate in order to accomplish something that they can’t achieve unilaterally. In every case others potentially stand between them and what they need and believe they deserve. And, of course, those others may in turn see them as obstacles. The second reason is unpredictability. Anyone walking into a negotiating session faces a lot of unknowns – a significant source of stress.

Third is the absence of feedback on the negotiator’s performance. At the end of the day, there’s plenty of room for doubt and second-guessing. Even if you reach an agreement, who’s to say you couldn’t have pushed for more? Then again, it’s hard to know if you pushed too hard and taxed an important relationship. As a result, almost all of our subjects worried about their own competence and vulnerability.

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