High-stakes negotiations can be nerve-racking. There's a lot riding on the outcome. Will you secure that sought-after client? Will you seal that big deal?
Preparing for and engaging in these kinds of negotiations produce more beta brain waves, which keep you alert and focused. But depending on the stakes, you may produce more than you need along with cortisol, the stress hormone. Stress can be debilitating, especially when it comes to your creativity.
What exactly is happening during your negotiation that is causing you stress? One possibility is that when you are preparing for a negotiation, you are solely focusing on the outcomes you want. Perhaps you map out the path you intend to take to get to these outcomes. You might even identify markers along the way that let you know you are on track. However, as we all learn at one point or another in life, things do not always go according to plan. The other person does not have your map!
When the unexpected happens, you start to stress because the situation has diverted from your map. The beta-cortisol cycle picks up, which keeps you in a frenzied state and limits your ability to be flexible and creative. How do you get back on track?
Here are three ways to transform some of those beta waves to alpha waves, which will help you relax and flex your creative muscles:
1. Map out different scenarios during preparation.
It is a good idea to map out more than one scenario of how the negotiation might flow. Anticipate possible detours along the path, based on resistance points and other constraints you might run across. At these junctures, you can either try to get back on track to the main path or follow the new path the detour presents.
You can do this by asking questions that will uncover why there is resistance. Start by asking easy-to-answer questions that will get the other side talking and more comfortable sharing information. For example, "Can you tell me more about why you think this will not work?"
You may uncover some assumptions the other party is making. If they say "This is not a good time," you can respond with, "So it is not a good time now?" By doing this, you are integrating the person's response into your clarification without sounding defensive.
2. Center yourself in the moment.
It is important to have a practice that allows you to remain physically present in the negotiation and calms your brain and emotional state.
There are benefits to reciting mantras, visualizing tranquil images, or remembering soft melodies. Slowing down your breathing is also a good stress reducer. You can either take a break or practice this during the negotiation. Breathe in to the count of four, hold for four, breathe out for four, and repeat. When you are tense, your breaths are short and rapid. Slowing down your breathing will relax you and send more oxygen to your brain, so you can be more agile and creative in the moment.
3. Listen throughout the process to hear what is most important.
You may think you need to have all the answers, but that is an unrealistic expectation to place on yourself. Your negotiation partner is a treasure chest of information and your role is to unlock it to find out what you actually need to know.
Spend more time listening than speaking because that will give you insights into how to move the negotiation along, according to the scenarios you prepared. As part of your preparation, identify what you will be listening for in order to guide you.
Listening is a complex activity and one that, too often, we lack focus in collecting the information we seek. This includes a counterpart's underlying needs, constraints, and what might sweeten the deal. Identifying these tidbits in advance will make it easier for you to recognize when you hear them.
Combining these three tips will lead you to calmer and more creative negotiations.