Beware; low-level science follows…
I’ve written this blog with a particular purpose in mind - to help you control one of the most common emotions that interfere with negotiation performance - FEAR.
Fear is a useful, even necessary, emotion. It is particularly effective at helping us avoid/escape genuinely dangerous situations. The fight-flight mechanism is very powerful. There are differences between fear and anxiety, but there is a huge overlap. Some scientists simplify it by saying fear is sparked by a present, known ‘danger’; whilst anxiety is triggered by the anticipation of some possible future negative experience. This difference is directly relevant to your possible solutions.
Because of the immense influence over human behaviour, there has been a great amount of research into the causes, impacts, and biochemistry of fear and anxiety. Putting most of that complicated science aside, fear and anxiety often leads people to perform poorly, lose focus, and can even cause them to have unhelpful physical reactions.
As useful as fear can be in some situations, these situations are not where normal business negotiations take place. It is now known that the prefrontal cortex plays a significant role in managing anxiety. The prefrontal cortex also plays a primary role in complex planning, decision-making, and moderating social behaviour. Therefore, as remarkable and complex as the brain is, it is no wonder anxiety can significantly impair our negotiation performance. ‘Fight and/or flight’ modes are not conducive to constructive, effective communication, critical thinking, and rational decision-making.
But it’s not just the ‘left brain’ functions that take a hit. I recently watched John Cleese talk about creativity. After decades of interest in the psychology of creativity, one of his key points was that to be creative one needs to be as free as possible from constriction. Creative people have a child-like, playful combination of focus and openness - they let their minds wander to discover or consider new ideas. In negotiation, even if you are very well prepared, you are likely to find yourself needing to identify creative solutions to unforeseen problems. Therefore, unfortunately - high anxiety has negative impacts on both rational thinking and creative thinking.
In relation to important, challenging negotiations, the energy may run high. You care about the outcome, and that’s a good thing. But how do you protect yourself from that high-level care developing into a distracting or even debilitating state?
1. When we are anxious, rational thinking can be elusive. But rational thinking is part of your solution. You may not meditate or have any interest in meditation. However, if you can find some way to calm your mind, that is the first step. Without going all new age, maybe just some simple breathing exercises that calm the body and bring you back to the present. You can research ways to do this. The present is where you can operate closer to your full potential. (Remember, anxiety is primarily about something that is not even happening and may not happen.)
2. If anxiety is about future events that feel out of your control, get more control! PREPARE well. While preparing, consider the various possible scenarios, especially the negative ones. What is the worst that could happen? What are the worst questions they could ask? The brain is remarkable but struggles to tell the difference between what is real and what is imagined with vivid clarity. If you do this well, you will already have ‘experienced’ and handled the worst that the future can do. (And of course, be as creative as possible in advance before you are under even greater pressure.)
3. As has been written in a previous post, learn to take your attention off yourself and your fears. Put your focus on the other party and on what will add value for your organisation and the other party.
4. Of course, use your skills and your team. Go at your pace - use summaries and questions to diminish the pressure. No matter the power balance, you can have great control over the process; and that in itself is calming.
5. Any residual nervous energy that remains keeps you sharp.
6. As things progress and disaster do not eventuate you will relax. (If some form of disaster actually did happen, being calm probably helped you handle it surprisingly well.)
7. If you do all these things well, it is likely the other side will not have even known that you were pooping yourself 😉