This is how to manage emotions during a negotiation

Four yellow smiley face hanging balls about to be hit by a red angry face hanging ball

We are very emotional beings. When you are in a negotiation those emotions can work for you or against you. If you are compassionate remaining calm, competent, and confident they work for us. If you become defensive, blame others or yourself, or even worse become angry, your negative emotions can take over. When that happens, you will not be thinking clearly. This can undermine your best of intentions. So, how can you make your emotions work for you in a negotiation?

In short, prepare by being mindful before the negotiation. When possible, identify your emotional triggers, reinterpret the trigger, alter the emotion, and take appropriate actions. Now let us look each of these areas to make your emotions work for you in a negotiation.


1. Be mindful


Practicing mindfulness has been found to reduce depression by sixty three percent, stress by forty percent, and anxiety by fifty-eight percent[i]. Just knowing this about mindfulness, consider mindfulness even outside of a negotiation. Prayer, reflection, meditation, or yoga are ways that can help you be calmer when faced with uncomfortable situations at work or in life. Mindfulness has the potential to transform your life.

Anyone can do it. It is evidence based. It sparks innovation. It begins and ends in your body.

Mindfulness is a way for you to present in the moment. Most of the time we simply take if for granted. Once you begin to explore mindfulness you notice how you are feeling and why you are feeling a particular way. However, no matter where you are mindfulness can bring you back to where you need to be. You simply must learn how to access it. For some it may be meditation focusing on breathing and clearing your mind. For others it may be prayer before engaging in a difficult task such as a test at school or before entering a tough negotiation.


2. Identify your emotional trigger and then focus


It had been thought that when you lose it and become angry this was because of your amygdala and your reptilian brain. This was called an amygdala hijack. This has been promoted for years. However, recent research says this is not the case. Your entire nervous system and all your senses of sight, hearing, touch, smell, and taste all play a role.

Lisa Feldman Barrett in her book 7 ½ Lessons About the Brain dispels the amygdala hijack as false.

Instead, any of host of elements may function as a trigger. In a negotiation, the other side may bait you into becoming angry. Something else may kick in your emotional trigger that has nothing to do with the negotiation. Knowing this go into the negotiation with a focus to remain calm, confident, and competent. If attempts are made to make you angry because the other side is provoking you, stay focused. Do not go that direction. Realize that someone or something is trying to trigger you into not thinking clearly. The other side may be doing this for their benefit. Do not go there. Instead focus on what the other party is stating and why. Ask questions. Dig further. Listen to understand.


3. Reinterpret your trigger


Why did the other party initiate that action? Is this an attempt to make you angry? Where could you go to change what you were beginning to feel as anger and instead make this into an opportunity. Where are they coming from and why? Are they an advocate for their client and presuming this is what they are getting paid to do? Do they think this is a way to take charge of the negotiation with bullying techniques? Here are some suggestions.

  1. Be present. Be open. Recognize and call out what you are seeing and hearing. Help keep the negotiation focused on the big picture of what you are trying to do and accomplish with this negotiation. Avoid being counterproductive, and instead focus on what might be productive.
  2. You may close your eyes for just a second and imagine a quiet happy place like sitting in a canoe on a beautiful river or lake, or relaxing along a beach hearing the waves. That momentary pause may make all the difference for you.
  3. Might you suggest a break?
  4. You may want to ask a question or make a statement to take the trigger a different direction? Something bizarre like “how about those cubs last night?” Sometimes a redirection with some humor can work.
  5. Pay attention to everyone in the room. If one party seems to be on board and in agreement with you while another is scowling, you may want to reach out to the party that is nodding agreement and ask that person what they are thinking and why.


4. Alter the emotion


If tensions are high, you may be able to alter the emotion by taking specific actions. For example,

  1. you may want to deliberately slow down. This is likely to be picked up by others in the room.
  2. Be empathetic and put yourself in their shoes. Demonstrate active listening by summarizing what the said. Paraphrase in your own words. Make a point of being courteous and polite.
  3. Help the other party to say “yes.” What are things we can agree on with each other. What can we agree with on where we want to go?
  4. Do not pass judgment. This can be extremely hard in the heat of the moment in a negotiation, but by focusing as indicated earlier and forcing yourself to not pass judgment this can help you alter your emotions in a positive way.
  5. Continue to give yourself positive self-talk because this can be hard. You need to control yourself and your emotions.


5. Take appropriate actions


Finally, take appropriate actions so that others can see what you are trying to accomplish to de-escalate the situation and help everyone come back on task. An apology on your part for something can help. Responding to the six-hundred-pound gorilla in the room may help everyone begin to address the big issue. Understand how to offer concessions. If you can address the first four issues, this will help you to take appropriate actions so that

others will notice how you are helping your team and theirs to stay focused on the issues before you.

Check out this article from the Harvard Business Review for additional insights.

Your bottom line is to realize behind every position is at least one interest. Behind that interest or those interests are the seeds for a solution. Understanding how your emotions impact the negotiation and what you can do will make you a better negotiator in the future.

About the author

Mike Gregory is a professional speaker, an author, and a mediator. You may contact Mike directly at and at (651) 633-5311. Mike has written 12 books (and co-authored two others) including his latest book, The Collaboration Effect: Overcoming Your Conflicts, and The Servant Manager, Business Valuations and the IRS, and Peaceful Resolutions that you may find helpful. [Michael Gregory, ASA, CVA, MBA, Qualified Mediator with the Minnesota Supreme Court]