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'It’s been emotional' – the problem with letting feelings get involved at the negotiating table

Mike Lander, chief executive of Piscari and ex-procurement director, has spent his career honing his own, and others', negotiation skills. In this column, he'll share his advice on how to negotiate more profitable deals – especially with procurement.

Although I wouldn’t say “Big Chris” from Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels is a character we want to immortalise, he should certainly be commended for remaining cool under pressure.

I was advising a client recently on a negotiation that was getting pretty heated. The buyer had thrown a curveball late in the negotiation and my client was incandescent.

Let me share with you the practical tips and advice that I gave to him to answer this important question:

“How do you deal with emotions during your negotiations?”

What do I commonly see in negotiation situations?

I’ve been selling and negotiating deals for over 25 years. I’ve been on emotional rollercoasters, sat in dark rooms (literally) and faced many “table thumpers”.

These are some of the common “negotiation emotions” I’ve witnessed:

  • The excitement of the deal is part of the fun of selling. But excitement triggers emotions and can create a highly-charged atmosphere.
  • The prestige of potentially winning a deal with a global brand brings a “high-stakes” frisson to the situation.
  • As sales people, we often feel anxious about our targets, which can come across during a client negotiation as desperation.

Do any of these resonate with you?

We can’t, and shouldn’t, deny who we are and how we feel. But wearing your heart on your sleeve has implications during any negotiation.

What is the target? I.e. What would a great outcome look like?

There are some practical things you can do BEFORE you ever sit at the negotiation table to stop emotions getting in the way of a great deal:

Start with the end in mind. (Stephen Covey)

In a negotiation context, write down your ideal outcome for each of the variables you’ll be negotiating around.

Link to your business goals.

Any negotiation sits within the context of your business’s wider strategic objectives. For example, grow market share in a new territory, deepen expertise in a market sector, etc. Knowing your business goals up-front will fundamentally affect what you’re prepared to do as part of any specific negotiation.

Start with objective criteria.

Identify 3-5 criteria, independent of either party’s interests, by which you could agree to doing a deal. For example: independent market data on pricing, alignment of interests of both parties, “fairness”.

What are the challenges or problems in hitting the target?

Now you know where you’re starting from (the situation) and where you’re going (the target), what are the challenges in getting there?

These are some of the problems, in relation to emotions, that you are likely to encounter as you tack towards your ideal outcome:

  • An emotionally charged state weakens your position. A trained buyer will spot this and use it to their advantage.

  • Lack of certainty leads to increased anxiety.

  • Being in an emotional state reduces our ability to spot new information, dramatically. Information and analysis is the life-blood of any negotiation.

  • Lack of empathy. Although, in my view, emotion has no place at the negotiating table, being able to empathise with your counterparty is important to understand their triggers and motivations, e.g. I don’t think Mr. Spock was the world’s greatest negotiator! Empathy is one of your secret weapons.

  • Emotional states tip the balance of power. A trained buyer may come in with a last-minute chip to get the deal done if they spot weakness.

My tips for managing emotions during any negotiation

  1. Separate the people from the problem. It should never be personal. It’s about getting to an outcome that meets the needs and interests of both parties/businesses.

  2. Have a clear process. Process and structure is a proven way of reducing anxiety. The process brings an element of control and certainty to proceedings.

  3. Prepare your negotiation. Use templates to guide your thinking through the deal process (I’m launching a template workbook this summer. Email me to be first on the list)

  4. As Jim Camp said, “start with a blank slate”. Before you sit at the negotiating table, clear your mind of fears, hopes, dreams, irritations, etc. As a very good friend of mine once said “the moment you’re emotionally wedded to the outcome, Mike, the deal is over”.

  5. Focus on interests. A lot of negotiators start with their demands or red-lines. Counter by finding out what their underlying interests are by asking “Can I just ask why [demand] is so important to you?”

  6. BATNA. One of the best methods of reducing anxiety for a salesperson is to have a strong pipeline. That way, if this buyer won’t agree to a fair deal, you have plenty of other deals to work on that are likely to be better clients.

Conclusions

In my experience, emotions don’t have any place at the negotiating table, but empathy does.

Emotions lead to uneven (and uncertain) outcomes and can often end up with deals blowing up. To manage your emotional state and get better negotiated outcomes:

  • Think through your ideal outcome, i.e. the Target.
  • Address the common challenges/problems in advance of negotiations.
  • Have a plan and prepare well.

If you have any comments or questions about anything in this article, I’d love to hear from you. Drop me an email.

Mike Lander is the CEO and founder of Piscari, which empowers agency leaders with better negotiation skills and insights into how procurement professionals work.

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