The mindful negotiation: Coping with anxiety
Negotiation comes naturally to some people but for many of us, it's an anxiety-filled process fraught with self-doubt and self-consciousness. We negotiate constantly: With partners, with clients, with colleagues, and even with our children. Here are a few ideas for coping with the anxiety that often accompanies negotiation.
1. Notice your anxiety
It's there. Acknowledge it, even out loud. "Negotiations often make me anxious. I'm feeling a bit nervous right now." Unless the person you're negotiating with is incapable of feeling (in which case, watch out but this isn't common), they either feel nervous too or they remember feeling nervous before. Anxiety makes you human.
2. Everybody's a winner.
Do you believe that in negotiations, there is a winner and a loser? If you do, you're in the majority and this underlying belief is the root of most negotiation anxiety. What if you were to go into the negotiation asking yourself AUTHENTICALLY, "how can we leave with everybody getting most of what they want?" If both parties go in looking for mutual wins, no one loses and so there's nothing to be nervous about.
Can you see this negotiation through the eyes of the other party? Do you know what they want and what outcome would make them happy and successful? If you don't know, you need to pay attention and figure that out so that you can propose conditions and agreements that are mutually beneficial. If you don't know how to ask, start with phrases like, "tell me more about what a successful outcome would look like for you."
4. Acknowledge the process, not just the content
Many things are happening in the room during a negotiation. Each individual is thinking, feeling, and behaving in ways both overt and covert. The content in the room is the thing being negotiated: The contract, salary, process, fees, deliverables. The process is HOW it is happening. When a negotiation becomes uncomfortable, one of the most useful things to do is to acknowledge the process.
In a proposal for service negotiation you might say, "I sent you a proposal without understanding your budget. I know you didn't want to share that information ahead of us meeting but now I find myself curious as to how my proposal compared to your budget and how it stacks up against the other proposals you received."
In a stalled salary negotiation you could say, "I'm feeling a bit anxious because I really am excited at the prospect of working for your organization but I am a bit confused by the offer I received (it was 20% below market). I find myself wondering if you may have a different compensation strategy than other organizations. Can we talk about your compensation and retention plans so I can understand how the organization manages those things?"
Pulling it together
What does this look like with all four steps in play? Let's outline a scenario: There's no denying it. You're anxious about this negotiation and you're going to have to carry that anxiety into the meeting - perhaps even pointing it out to others in the room. "Whew - these negotiations always make me a bit nervous." Next, acknowledge to yourself that the goal of the meeting is to get everyone's needs met. "The purpose of today's meeting is to figure out how we can get this project done well, on time, and for a reasonable cost. Let's figure out the best balance of those three things for all of us." Then, try to see the goals of the negotiation through the eyes of the other party. "I know that you only have $30,000 remaining in the budget and we estimate it will take about $50,000 of work to complete it. You're probably nervous about the budget and we're afraid of overcommitting scope for too little fee. Let's discuss how we can manage scope and/or cost to get everyone's needs met." Finally, if things get awkward, say it. "I felt the room go silent as soon as I mentioned that I couldn't discount more than $5,000. It feels like the wind went out of everyone's sails. Anyone else feeling that?"
With these four steps, you might not take the anxiety out of negotiations but you will be more likely to handle both the negotiation and the feelings it brings up with more grace and hopefully better results.