Real Leaders

If Negotiations Are So Important, Why Are They So Hard?

High-stakes negotiations can be nerve-racking. There’s a lot riding on the outcome, and because of it, you place enormous pressure on yourself. Will you secure that sought-after client? Will you seal that big deal? Land that investor? And what happens if you don’t?

Preparing for and engaging in these kinds of negotiations generates beta brain waves, which keep you alert and focused. That’s a good thing. Negotiations can be complex; so much information is exchanged in the back-and-forth of all the bargaining. You need to keep track of what you committed to, what the other party committed to, and any contradictions that may arise.

But as you do, you may produce more beta waves than you need, which isn’t a good thing. Spikes in beta waves ultimately lead to poor concentration, brain fog, and fatigue. In addition, your body ramps up cortisol, a stress hormone, and stress can be debilitating, especially when it comes to your creativity.

What exactly is happening during negotiations that causes so much stress? One possibility is that when preparing for a negotiation, you’re solely focused on the outcomes you want. This is a natural tendency.

Perhaps you map out the path you intend to take to get to those desired outcomes. You might even identify mini-milestones along the way that will let you know you’re on track. However, as we all learn at one point or another in life, things don’t always go according to plan. Sure, you planned how you wanted the negotiation to flow, but this wasn’t a dialogue with your negotiating partner. The person you’re negotiating with doesn’t have your road map!

So, when the unexpected happens, you start to stress because the situation has deviated from your carefully drawn map. The beta-cortisol cycle in your brain and body picks back up, keeping you in a frenzied state and limiting your ability to be flexible and creative. As a result, you end up in a rigid cycle and don’t advance the negotiation to where you want it to be.

How do you get back on track?

Here are three ways to transform some of those beta waves into alpha waves, which will help you relax and flex your negotiation muscles:

01. Map out different scenarios during your negotiation preparation.

It’s always a good idea to map out multiple scenarios of how the negotiation might flow. What detours should you anticipate? What resistance points and constraints might you run across? At these junctures, you can either try to get back on your pre-planned path or follow the new path the detour presents.

You can do this by asking questions that uncover why there are roadblocks and resistance. Start with easy-to-answer questions that get the other side talking and more comfortable sharing information. For example, you might ask, “Can you tell me more about why you think this won’t work?”

If the other party answers, “This isn’t a good time,” you can respond with, “So, it’s not a good time now?” By doing this, you’re integrating the person’s response into your clarification without sounding defensive. Your new mini-goals is to figure out when a good time might be.

02. Center yourself in the moment.

Habits and practices that allow you to remain physically and emotionally present in your negotiations are essential.

Reciting mantras, visualizing tranquil images, or remembering soft melodies will generate alpha waves in your brain and keep you centered and calm. If you can’t actually perform these practices, recall a time when you did and the benefits you gained as a result.

Slowing down your breathing is also a good stress reducer. Breathe in to the count of four, hold for four, breathe out for four, and repeat. When you’re tense, your breaths are short and rapid. Slowing your breathing will relax you and send more oxygen to your brain so that you can be more agile and creative in the moment.

3. Listen throughout the process to hear what’s most important.

During a negotiation, you may think you need to have all the answers, but that’s an unrealistic expectation to place on yourself. Your negotiation partner is a treasure chest of information; your role is to unlock it to find out what you need to know.

Spend more time listening than speaking. This will give you insights into how to move the negotiation forward. As part of your alternative scenario preparation, identify what you should be listening for.

Listening is a complex activity, and too often, we lack focus and miss collecting the information we seek. This includes listening for the other party’s underlying needs, their constraints, and what might sweeten the deal. Identifying these tidbits in advance will make it easier for you to recognize them when you hear them. This listening practice will hone your skills so that you’ll be able to surface critical information that may have previously been overlooked.

Combining these three tips will lead you to easier, calmer, and more creative negotiations.

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