The average person makes 35,000 decisions a day. That’s about one every two seconds. Most of them don’t even register as conscious choices, but you are almost continually making micro-negotiations with yourself, your clients, and your employees.

Still reading? You made another.

The beginning of the year brings a flurry of important decisions for every leader. From signing promotions, bonuses, and contracts to working through mergers, every challenge is a sum of many smaller negotiations.

Before the burden of leadership turns to burnout, the tenets of principled negotiations can bring a new lens to your current problems. Expert negotiators and “leader leaders” at Shapiro Negotiations Institute have distilled nearly 30 years of experience into five memorable, actionable principles.

1.    Isolate the Problem by Separating Emotion

When we negotiate through emotion (anger, jealousy, even love), we selfishly put ourselves into the heart of the outcome. Promotions become less about principles and more about what individuals FEEL they deserve. As a leader, you can acknowledge emotion but help isolate the problem to build a stronger, rational discussion towards ideal outcomes.

2.    Find the Shared Value

What is essential to all parties? A leader establishes common ground to define shared values that guide successful negotiations. Money is one, but there are other goals – career objectives and project outcomes – that can reshape the bargaining. When in doubt, it’s safer to not speak for the other party. Use a Probing technique to ask open-ended questions and give all parties the opportunity to state what objectives or priorities they pursue. Chances are, you’ll be able to reevaluate the negotiation in a new light.

3.    Establish Criteria Early

Knowing which factors to evaluate will save excruciating headaches later in the process. Negotiations easily become complex and raise more questions than answers. Having clearly defined criteria creates flexibility to explore new directions while remaining faithful to the mandates of your objectives. When leading your team, this will empower creativity and encourage outside-the-box thinking.

4.    Seek Options Over Outcomes

Murphy’s Law. Things never go according to plan. As a leader, you must be equipped to adapt and pivot at a moment’s notice. If you enter any negotiation with one outcome in mind, you are giving yourself precisely one chance to win or lose. But, if you operate from a shared value and clearly defined criteria (points 2 & 3), you can focus on creating options. This makes your leadership more productive, flexible, and exponentially more valuable by opening up previously unimagined pathways to success for you, your team, and the organization.

5.    Redefine Loss

Negotiations induce stress and anxiety because they’re inherently combative – if you don’t get the outcome that you want, you feel like you’ve lost. Even in traditional bargaining, it’s easy to feel like you must sacrifice something to find a “win-win” compromise.

But you can look at this differently. You can redefine the terms of success and failure. Stepping back, you can evaluate any dilemma in a big-picture, holistic perspective. Consider bargaining with employees who want a promotion. They are likely defining loss concerning raw salary numbers, maybe with a specific amount or percentage in mind. They may be neglecting the big picture by focusing on salary alone.

As a leader, utilizing these principles, you can diffuse this potentially harmful negotiation by expanding the employee’s view to focus on the broader package. What are the implications and realities that come with it?

●    Perhaps a 15% increase is significantly more than the industry/company standard.

●    Or it comes with the promise of midyear or performance bonuses in the year ahead.

●    Plus a title change to reflect the growth and contributions made.

●    Plus a more in-depth discussion into career training that will help this employee connect with the skills and areas of expertise that provide deeply rewarding intrinsic joy.

The value goes beyond the limited focus many employees bring to the table. As a leader, you’ve redefined loss.

Don’t overthink every minor dilemma you encounter, but build a toolkit of principles that can cast a new light on old problems to illuminate the best solutions – even by creating brand new opportunities. There’s no singular blueprint to building a sustainable business or team. As a leader, that starts with you.