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How You Can Address Negativity During Negotiations

By |July 09, 2024

Negotiations can often feel like navigating a minefield, where misunderstandings and unmet expectations give rise to negativity that can derail collaborative discussions and strain relationships. With the right techniques, converting negativity into constructive dialogue is possible, fostering a collaborative environment and leading to better outcomes for all parties involved. This article explores strategies such as demonstrating Tactical Empathy®, employing active listening, and utilizing encouragers. Additionally, we’ll delve into the power of self-labels and the intriguing concept that it’s impossible to be angry and curious at the same time.

Using Labels™ to Address Negative Emotions

Negative statements can be like throwing fuel on a fire in negotiations. They can lead to escalating tensions and a shutdown in constructive communication. You should use Labels to address these negative emotions and statements. Labeling involves observing and verbalizing the other party’s perspective, which can help to defuse tension and make your counterpart more cognitively nimble. For instance, if your counterpart makes the statement, "You're not listening to me," you could use a Label such as, ”It sounds like I am failing to be sensitive to something very important to you?” To use Labels effectively, listen actively to identify the underlying emotions, verbalize them in a non-judgmental way, and confirm their accuracy with the other party. This technique demonstrates that you are doing the work to fully understand their perspectives, feelings, and dynamics, which can shift the conversation from conflict to collaboration.

Self-labeling is a technique for identifying and naming one's own negative emotions and fears. This can be incredibly effective during negotiations and difficult conversations. By naming your own emotions, you become more aware of your internal state, which can help you respond, instead of inappropriately reacting. Acknowledging your emotions can prevent them from escalating and promote your emotional intelligence. To use self-labels, identify your emotion, and recognize what you are being triggered by. This happens in your head; no one else will know. This technique takes practice. I find myself falling back on some common self-labels in difficult conversations. Feel free to try them out. Instead of speaking out loud and saying something you might regret, like “I know you did not just try to pass that off as a viable option,” try thinking to yourself, It feels like this person is making me mad. You cannot stop your brain from doing what it does, but you can significantly alter how it might negatively affect your ability to listen and communicate.      

Curiosity and Anger Cannot Coexist

An interesting psychological insight is that it's impossible to be both angry and curious at the same time. When you turn on your curiosity, anger switches off, or cannot come on at all. Of course, this works in both directions so be careful. To apply curiosity in negotiations, ask yourself the questions: why does this make sense to them? What is their internal logic? What emotion are they attaching to their argument? Stay open-minded and use curiosity to avoid a confrontational mindset. This not only calms you but also helps you find Black Swans; those pieces of information that change everything going forward. Negotiation is, at its core, an information-gathering activity. You cannot learn if you are not listening deeply.  

Use encouragers to show your counterpart you are engaged and to keep them talking. Encouragers are verbal and non-verbal cues to signal the speaker that you are engaged and interested in what they are saying. Simple words or sounds like "uh-huh," "I see," or "go on" can encourage the speaker to continue sharing their thoughts and feelings. Non-verbal encouragers include nodding and maintaining eye contact. These small signals can make a big difference in making the other party feel heard and understood. They also defuse negativity, and foster a more collaborative atmosphere. Encouragers are especially valuable during telephone calls. They help avoid the dreaded question, “are you still there?”  

Practical Application of These Strategies

Let’s put these strategies into practice with a hypothetical scenario. Suppose that you reached an agreement with a buyer and were waiting for the signed contract. After a few days, you call to make sure everything is on track. The buyer almost yells in your ear, “We read the contract. The terms are outrageous and unfair! We won’t be signing.” Now is a very good time to self-label and simultaneously throttle up your curiosity. It is so easy to attack back and it is so counterproductive. After you think about your feelings...."It feels like I am getting manipulated for a better deal". Use that late-night DJ voice to Label what you are observing from the other side. “It sounds like the terms caught you off-guard?” Or, “It seems like I missed the mark?” Remember, Dynamic Silence follows each skill. Your counterpart was likely ready for an argument or a sales pitch. Something like, “What are you talking about?  We agreed that this was a great deal for you!” When you instead demonstrate Tactical Empathy® with a Label to test your hypothesis about why the statement makes sense to them, they get to make their point and feed you a lot of information. You might discover that a team of deal killers on their side got in the way. Maybe the person who wrote the contract got something wrong. There is always the chance your self-label was right, they are trying to coerce you into a better deal for them. You may never know if you don’t stay curious and use the Black Swan Method!     
By following these steps, you not only defuse the negative energy, you move toward building a trust based influence aimed at finding a lucrative solution for you and your organization. Diffusing negativity so there can be constructive dialogue in negotiations is about managing your emotions and actively engaging with and demonstrating understanding to the other party. Techniques like, Tactical Empathy®, employing active listening, using self-labels, staying curious, and utilizing encouragers, can turn potentially contentious negotiations into opportunities for collaboration and mutual gain. By implementing these strategies, negotiators can create a more positive and productive environment, leading to better outcomes for all involved. Remember, unaddressed negative emotions never go away. Putting the effort into overcoming negatives makes you stand out from the crowd and ultimately makes you money.