Years ago, I worked at a very intense management consulting firm. There was a  tremendous amount of pressure to deliver value and if you did not demonstrate your value added in the first few minutes of an interaction, people stopped listening.

Maybe I'm exaggerating the length of time others would be patient, but really, it's not that far off. And once you were considered a person of little value, you weren't taken seriously and had to work that much harder to climb back out of the hole you dug.

In that type of environment the pressure you exert on yourself can stop you right in your tracks and create an unsustainable level of anxiety. I witnessed people falling ill because of the stress.

There must be other ways to manage this constant pressure to perform. In one of his mini-podcasts, bestselling author Daniel Pink recommends pumping yourself up by asking yourself a question. It's not the same as making a statement: The statement has a "feel good" effect in the moment, and the question has a longer lasting effect.

In the process of answering your own question, you are forced to develop strategies in response. Thinking through this problem-solving routine can create more resilience when facing challenges, regardless of how daunting you find them.

Your subconscious mind influences your behavior in ways that are not apparent. In a negotiation, your mind has a way of leading you toward what you expect--not what you want. If you expect the other side to be challenging, guess what? Your negotiating "other" will be a negotiating opponent, not a negotiating partner. It seems like a subtle shift, yet the power of that framing can make the difference in how you perform during that negotiation.

There are three common cognitive distortions you have probably experienced at one time or another. Research has shown that how we think is how we feel and how we act:

  1. Overgeneralizing or catastrophizing situations. Using words such as always or never can fall into this category, such as "I always mess up" or "I can never do that." Framing situations as worst case scenarios can lead you to a no hope zone.
  2. Jumping to conclusions. Framing resistance before you enter the room can stop you from even trying. Expressions such as "I know he is never going to go for this," set you up for failure.
  3. Using "should expressions." These include "you should be this or do that" and "you should not be this or not do that." This means you're focusing on what's absent, rather than all you've achieved thus far.

So how did I survive the pressure? Every morning for five years, I asked myself, "How much do you really need this job? What else would you like to do?"

Was it true that I could just switch jobs at any moment and do anything I wanted? Of course not. I needed to work, I had a family, and I couldn't just leave and figure it out later. But by asking myself these questions I felt pumped up. It had a positive physical and emotional effect on my attitude, posture and ability to work well under pressure.

The experience taught me these three ways to pump yourself up before a negotiation:

1. Pay attention to the chatter in your head.

What are the messages you tell yourself and how does that make you feel? If you have any doubt that your message is not pumping you up, then reframe it even if you need to exaggerate the positive tone it has. You can always reel it back in a bit for balance.

2. Frame the negotiation as successful.

Anticipate that the negotiation is going to go well because you are prepared, you want to engage, and you are building a relationship. Instead of thinking of it as a must win, think of it as just another conversation. It lessens the pressure.

3. Reflect on your accomplishments.

There is always something positive happening if you know how and where to look. Identify all of what went well and one action you want to take to make it better next time. It will take determination to focus on the positive and not slide into the negative space. 

Life is a series of small steps and learning along the way.

Published on: Mar 27, 2018