The Negotiator Magazine

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Dealing With Your Emotions in Negotiations

By Delee Fromm

Negotiations, due to their nature, create and foster strong negative emotions. Where individuals meet to primarily promote their self-interests or where the past histories of the parties involved have been colored by acrimony, it is not surprising that sometimes emotions are more powerful than the facts in determining the course and outcome of the negotiations. However without emotions it would be impossible for people to resolve important conflicts. Emotions motivate us to act and keep us working hard to settle differences. The problems emerge when we allow emotion to affect the way we negotiate. To negotiate well we need to step back and see the big picture. We need to be able to view the issues and discussions rationally - to be able to balance emotion with reason. So how do we deal with emotions in a way that allows us to control them and, where appropriate, express them constructively?

1. Acceptance and awareness. To be human is to feel and there is nothing wrong with having emotions. Accept that feelings are normal and natural. Often however we are unaware of our emotions. And if we are unaware of what we are feeling then most likely we are unaware of the feelings of others. The hallmark of emotional intelligence, the single best predictor of success in life, is to understand our own feelings and those of others. It is important to realize that feelings usually come in bundles - some are obvious and some are more difficult to find. In order to tease apart all of the feelings we may be experiencing, it is necessary to become familiar with the spectrum of feelings that are not as easy to discover - these include hurt, shame, fear, self-doubt, sadness, jealousy, and loneliness. Often we may suppress or deny our emotions - especially if they are feelings we do not like to admit having. However, suppression of feelings, particularly strong emotions, usually leads to leakage or bursts. They will come out, often in the most inappropriate way and at the most awkward time. Since our body is closely tied to our emotions, one way to become more aware of our emotions is to notice how our body is behaving. Headaches and aching muscles in the neck and shoulders may indicate panic, a tight chest may signal fear, a racing heart and sweating usually signal anger, and fatigue and slowed speech suggest sadness. By learning how our body reveals our inner emotional state, we can not only be more aware of what we are feeling but most likely will discover the onset of emotional states more quickly.

2. How to Deal with Extreme Emotion. In general when some feeling inside seems to be growing larger and out of control, naming or identifying that feeling internally will, by itself, tend to reduce the feeling and bring it under control. It also helps to be able to adopt the stance of a detached observer. This allows perspective to analyze the emotions and think of ways of dealing with them. It is important to note that even awareness and recognition of emotions may not be enough to control behavior. Due to the way the human brain works sometimes very strong emotions, such as fear or rage, may lead us to act before we have consciously decided what to do. Also most of our blood goes to our extremities when we experience anger - so although we are well prepared for a physical fight, our problem solving abilities will not be at their optimum, to say the least. If a person is able to avoid reacting immediately, buying some time is always a good way to deal with surging emotions. Some techniques for buying time include hitting an imaginary pause button or taking an actual physical break. The mental pause button can be triggered any time you start feeling uncomfortable or when heavy emotions are starting to surge. Common ways to take a physical break include a trip to the washroom or a break for lunch or coffee. If a longer time period is needed, the negotiations can be halted and another meeting or telephone call scheduled later. This also permits the time to become a detached observer -- to figure out what we are feeling and why. Be aware that emotions are not fixed - they can be changed by negotiating with them. Since our feelings are related to our thoughts and perceptions, we can change our feelings by changing our thoughts and perceptions. By changing the beliefs and information that underlie our thoughts and perceptions, we can shift our feelings. Hot feelings, which are less adaptable and rational, can be changed to cool feelings, which are healthier and less volatile. For example, anger can be changed to annoyance and irritation, depression to sadness, severe guilt to regret, and anxiety to concern.

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November 2005