The Negotiator Magazine

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“Using Imagery as a Tool for Preparing for Negotiations”

by Dave Harris

Negotiating, unlike life should not be a box of chocolates where you never know what to expect. All skilled negotiators know that any successful negotiating incident starts with a sound preparation base. The basis of this preparation is that the negotiator that has the most reliable information about the negotiating subject and the opponent starts negotiating from a position of strength.

Many negotiators are excellent at the phases running up to the actual negotiations but their good work runs awry as the butterflies set in to attack the self confidence when they reach the face to face phase.

After the fact, some negotiators could experience negotiators remorse. This emotion is usually expressed as “why did I not say this or that in response to …” or ‘I just could not get myself to saying or asking for that…”. Preparation should not only include what or when to say it, it should also include actually “seeing” yourself deliver that which you prepared.

Using imagery as a preparation tool gives you the edge during negotiations. It also gives you the opportunity to do a live repetition of the actual incident. Using imagery in the preparation phase gives you that grit which you need to deliver your excellent preparation.

Imagery as a skill

Imagery is referred to in a dictionary definition as “mental images; the product of the imagination”.  In a text book definition White and Hardy (1998) defined imagery as: [A]n experience that mimics real experience. We can be aware of "seeing" an image, feeling movements as an image, or experiencing an image of smell, tastes, or sounds without actually experiencing the real thing. Sometimes people find that it helps to close their eyes. It differs from dreams in that we are awake and conscious when we form an image. (p. 389)

Certain of us have the ability, without much of an effort, to conjure up vivid pictures whilst others may have some difficulty in getting the image to reach technicolor clarity.

Together with these different images, comes the sensation of different beliefs and sensations. The more vivid the image recall or construction, the more vivid the sensation.

Most of us have at the one stage or the other utilised our imaginations to the extent that we have achieved what we thought to be almost the impossible. The flip side may also be true in that we have possibly also have unwittingly used our imagery skills to under achieve.

Suffice it to say that our images usually also become self fulfilling prophecies. It is really very simple, if we imagine, or picture, ourselves failing we inevitably will. On the other hand if we consistently visualise ourselves as being successful and assertive as negotiators it is quite possible to drop those images into reality. 

Imagery techniques

Reiterating that the ability to create clear, vivid mental images varies from individual to individual, a simple test to gauge one’s ability to create such images is as follows:

Close your eyes and picture in as much detail as possible the following:

  1. Brushing your teeth this morning
  2. Imagine the smell of your favourite dish
  3. Hear a helicopter slicing through the air
  4. Picture your next summer vacation at a familiar destination 
  5. See the audience respond positively at a keynote address that you are delivering

With this simple test you are recalling images and in certain instances you are creating images that are yet to take place. Basically, we think in pictures, the more detail and the more technicolour you are capable of getting the image the more certain we are of the result. (Also see the test “testing your mind’s eye’ at the end of the article)

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April 2007