Our emotional state impacts everything we do, whether it’s driving, interacting with family members or how we eat. Negotiations can be highly emotionally charged for the clients and sometimes for the attorney, according to an article in the Harvard Business Review.

The authors did some research as part of an ongoing study and conducted interviews with twenty experienced negotiators to discuss their thoughts and feelings about the negotiation process. Subjects were asked to collect images they associated with negotiations. They included,

  • Banana peels and an exposed brain representing the fear of being outwitted or tricked.
  • Trapeze artists and a safety net reflect the need for trust in one’s partner and for walkaway options.
  • An escalator represented achieving higher value.
  • A smiling couple represented a situation where both sides are satisfied with the outcome.

Outwardly all the subjects appeared confident and successful, but even the most optimistic ones admitted feeling anxious about negotiation which, could be compounded by the need to handle uncertainty and reconcile mixed emotions.

In another study, those who were most anxious in a negotiation exercise had lower expectations, made lower first offers, responded more quickly to offers, exited the bargaining sooner and got worse outcomes. The authors found negotiation inherently stressful for three reasons.

  • Lack of control. People negotiate because they can’t accomplish something by themselves so they need to convince another to take a course of action.
  • Anything can, and will, happen during a negotiation.
  • Absence of feedback on the negotiator’s performance. When negotiation is over there can be a lot of doubt and second-guessing. Would a different approach have yielded better results?

The authors suggest some exercises to help negotiators be emotionally prepared to negotiate effectively. This isn’t suppressing feelings but drawing on them as a resource so that you can be focused, engaged and flexible.

How do you want to feel going into the negotiation? Why?

There needs to be a balance of emotions. You may want to feel relaxed, focused and confident but not complacent while being a bit on edge so you have energy to drive the process forward. Good negotiators may want to be at the same time calm and alert, proactive and patient, fully grounded yet creative. These are all contradictory emotions which a negotiator needs to resign him or herself to and balance them all.

What can you do beforehand to put yourself in an ideal emotional state?

Last minute cramming may tense you up. Meditation could ease distractions. If you’re reserved, music may pump you up. If you think you may be too aggressive different music may calm you down. Visualize yourself performing at your best with the right combination of calm and alertness.

What can throw you off balance during a negotiation?

Each of us have our own emotional hot buttons. When did you not perform at your best? What happened and why? Try to learn from your past experiences.

What can you do during a negotiation to regain your balance?

Take a break. If you can’t leave the room, change the conversation. If the details of a deal are bogging you down, try a discussion of broad principles and concerns. Just by asserting some control can help you re-center yourself. If you starting to feel anger or anxiety, take a deep breath. You could also stand tall and stretch out for a moment.

How do you want to feel when you’re finished?

When asked this question some subjects stated, “Relieved,” which indicates how stressful negotiation can be. Others said, “Satisfied,” with both the outcome and their own performance. This reflects acceptance of the fact that not everything is predictable or controllable in a negotiation.

Good negotiators understand managing emotions is more than identifying them and setting them aside. They should be centered, energized and resilient in the face of strong feelings. They prepare both emotionally and substantively for any high-stakes negotiation.