Overcoming our Fears about Negotiation

How often do you hear: “I’m renegotiating my wages tomorrow. Can’t wait!” ? Yes, never, really. We do often hear: “I just hate conflict and negotiation” and “I know my stuff, but I’m not comfortable talking about money”. It’s most common for people to feel a sense of fear and discomfort just at the thought of negotiating, so they simply avoid it. However, life tends to serve you up what you need to get good at… In fact, you may be in a job which requires you to do it well. So what to do?! How do we manage this fear, and in some people’s case dread, of negotiating? The first thing is to understand what it is that you fear…

It seems we fear a million things about negotiating:

being challenged and unprepared
not knowing what to do next or how to respond
losing credibility and damaging our reputation
being under pressure to make an important decision
And then there’s that cunning FOMO… the Fear Of Missing Out on the best possible deal:

“How far should I push?”

“Can I get a better deal by spending a bit more time negotiating?”

“Maybe I shouldn’t agree and negotiate with another party instead?”

Interestingly, FOMO is the main reason why a perfectly good deal may leave a bad taste in one’s mouth, compromising its implementation.

There’s a great article by Jeff Haden for CBS News: “Negotiating Tips for People Who HATE Negotiating”. Now let’s assume we follow Jeff’s sound advice. Will it help us to enjoy negotiating?

Not so sure.

So, what’s missing? In my view, it’s about understanding that negotiating requires us to confront ourselves and our relationship with uncertainty… things we can’t control.

There’s a remarkable story that illustrates our Fear of Uncertainty. It’s about a spy who has been captured and sentenced to death by the General of the Persian army. The General permitted the condemned to make a choice: To face the firing squad OR go through “The Black Door”.

The prisoner really hesitated, but chose the firing squad. After the sentence was carried out, the General turned to his aide and said:

“You see how it is with people… They always prefer the known to the unknown. They’re afraid of the undefined. Yet, he had a choice.”

“What’s behind The Black Door?” asked the aide.

“Freedom”, replied the General, “But I’ve known only a few men brave enough to choose it.”

The powerful message is that it’s essential to understand what emotions drive our own and other people’s decisions. That most fears are irrational, and just a projection of our mind about the worst possible case scenario.

“Know the difference between Fear and Danger”

Keeping in mind that uncertainty is inherent in negotiation and there’s no such thing as “the perfect deal”, our learning is twofold. Firstly, seeing that if our imagination is capable of projecting “the worst case scenario”, we should harness its ability to project “the best case scenario” as the anticipated outcome. Yet, it is also wise to prepare for dealing with the worst case scenario as this will reduce uncertainty and thus tame your fear.

“Prepare for the worst, but hope for the best.” Benjamin Disraeli.

Preparation is a critical part of the negotiation process, including – preparing your deal, your dialogue, and most importantly YOURSELF . We need to have conscious awareness of our personal strengths and weaknesses with regard to knowledge of the negotiation process, the essential skillset and mindset, and then take action to improve where necessary.

If you haven’t assessed your negotiation skills lately, you can jump online and do so in about 10 minutes with The Trusted Negotiator Competency Review to see how you stack up

Having done your self-assessment, the next step is to get clear on your Fear Triggers, so that they don’t throw you off in the middle of the negotiation. Here are some questions to ask yourself:

What is it about negotiation that challenges me?
In a negotiation, am I showing a version of myself that’s not in sync with who I really am?
Do I fear being “rolled over” and therefore struggle with saying “NO”?
Do I fear being disliked and tend to discount or forgo my needs to please the other side?
Do I fear being unheard and lose my patience or become aggressive when expressing my needs?
Do I fear my own emotions and my ability to manage them, when someone is intentionally trying to get under my skin or push my buttons?
In conclusion, there’s no silver bullet for managing negotiations and getting a great deal. However, there is an opportunity to understand and befriend our fears. As the cartoon cleverly illustrates, we can use them as an ally to do the necessary learning and sooth them by being well prepared.

After all, how could it be any different?

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