Have you ever seen someone completely lose control in a negotiation?
Perhaps you inadvertently pushed one of their emotional buttons, and they let loose with a stream of invectives. Or perhaps they just suddenly started crying.
Of course, perhaps it was you who lost control.
It’s not an uncommon occurrence, especially in negotiations within families or where long-term relationships are involved.
So what is happening, and what can you do to better control or more productively channel these emotions?
In the groundbreaking book “Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ,” bestselling author Daniel Goleman explores the physiological elements of “emotional hijackings” that occur “when the rational mind is swamped by the emotional.”
As he notes, this occurs when some stimulus triggers the amygdala, a part of the brain, which “is poised something like an alarm company where operators stand ready to send out emergency calls to the fire department, police and a neighbor whenever a home security system signals trouble.”
The result, of course, is that you have physiologically lost rational control of your actions.
This matters because, as regular readers of my column know, the key to effectively negotiating is to act strategically, not instinctively. And you can’t negotiate strategically if you’ve lost control of your actions and can’t regulate — at least to a substantial degree — your emotions.
Goleman calls this skill “emotional intelligence,” defined as “abilities such as being able to motivate oneself and persist in the face of frustrations; to control impulse and delay gratification; to regulate one’s moods and keep distress from swamping the ability to think; to empathize and to hope.”
Critically, Goleman notes that these skills not only form the basis for effectively managing many of life’s challenges, but they also can be learned and improved upon. They are equally critical to effectively negotiating.
Specifically, emotionally critical skills in negotiations include:
• Self-control and the ability to control your instinctive impulse.
• Ability to motivate yourself and bring a positive attitude to the negotiation table.
• Empathy and the ability to put yourself in your counterpart’s shoes and understand their perspective.
• Active listening that communicates to your counterpart the importance of their thoughts and feelings.
• Persistence and the ability to maintain a strategic focus despite distractions and unexpected setbacks.
So how can you learn to more effectively address your counterparts’ hijackings, prevent your worst hijackings, and increase your emotional intelligence?
1. Plan for possible triggers before they occur.
“He will go nuclear if we do that,” a client recently said as we were strategically planning for an upcoming negotiation. Obviously, my client knew his counterpart’s emotional triggers.
This is critical and should be a part of your strategic planning process for your negotiations. Make a list of them. Likewise, list your emotional triggers and plan for how to address them if your counterpart brings them up.
2. Learn to recognize the warning signs of your emotional hijackings.
I can tell when my emotions are about to gain the upper hand. Usually it occurs when I’m overly tired and it often involves one of several sensitive subjects that have been difficult for me to address in the past.
What happens? I feel my frustration level rising, my voice gets louder, and I begin to feel more tense.
Goleman says for many individuals this is accompanied by a heart rate increase of at least 10 beats per minute from your baseline. Since the ability to hear, think and speak decreases during such times, calming down is essential to effectively negotiating.
But first you must be able to recognize the warning signs. If in doubt, monitor your heart rate and take a quick pulse.
3. Take a cooling off period and/or express empathy.
What do I do when I feel my emotions start to rise a bit too fast? Most often, I suggest a break or cooling off period.
During that time, Goleman suggests that you engage in some sort of relaxation technique, which for many involves exercise.
And if it’s your counterpart who appears to be getting hijacked and he or she won’t take a break, then actively listen, express empathy, and don’t ratchet up the emotions by reacting in kind.
4. Better understand and manage your own emotions.
Finally, the most effective negotiators constantly strive to improve their emotional intelligence by educating themselves about these and other issues and practicing techniques that will help them refine those emotionally critical skills listed above.
To that end, I would recommend www.eiconsortium.org for some excellent resources.
I recently was at my in-laws when my father-in-law’s Internet connection went down. He called and was told his account had been canceled by mistake. After clearing that up, they told him it would take 45 days to reconnect his service.
This made him livid. But he kept his cool, spoke to a supervisor, and his connection was up in an hour.
So next time someone appears ready to erupt, take a moment and consider how to productively respond.
If my father-in-law had erupted, he probably would still be without Internet service.
Published August 12, 2005 The Business Journal