Staying calm in a negotiation …

I’ve spent a lot of my career negotiating deals – but mostly for other people.   Mostly people involved in negotiations have strong feelings – and sometimes they can’t control them.  The number of deals that I’ve seen fall over (or at least come close to falling over) because of that “last straw” has taught me that staying calm is critical to achieving an outcome that you can not only live with – but which is going to be sustainable.

The core strategies that I recommend you take into any negotiation are:

  • understand what’s motivating the other party;
  • be very clear on your own bottom line (which includes understanding what it looks like under different lights);
  • come up with a variety of possible solutions;
  • use facts to persuade;
  • demonstrate a commitment to a fair and reasonable outcome;
  • build trust over time; and
  • focus on actively shaping the process of the discussions.

These are the same when the situation is emotional or fraught – but they’re harder to remember when the adrenaline is pumping!  So before you even start – whether you’re negotiating for someone else or for yourself – it’s important to focus and make sure you’re calm and mindful.

I came across this excellent article by Travis Bradberry (one of the authors of Emotional Intelligence 2.0 and Leadership 2.0 (amongst others)) the other day, sumarising the findings of a research undertaken by TalentSmart with more than a million people.  The study found that 90% of top performers are skilled at managing their emotions in times of stress in order to remain calm and in control.    And let’s face it, managing stress is good for managing negotiations – but it’s also important for your physical and mental health.  Whilst stress is an absolutely necessary emotional state – you need it to take action and generally you will perform best when there is a moderate level of stress – too much stress over a prolonged time can cause significant damage.

Here’s my summary of the key learnings from top performers who manage their stress levels – use it when you go into your next negotiation and let me know what you think:

Staying calm

Taken from an article by Travis Bradberry: "How Successful People Stay Calm" Forbes 2/06/2014

Taken from an article by Travis Bradberry: “How Successful People Stay Calm” Forbes 2/06/2014

Appreciate what you have

Taking time to contemplate and express your gratitude reduces the stress hormone cortisol by around 23%

Stay Positive

Taking time to contemplate and express your gratitude reduces the stress hormone cortisol by around 23%

Limit your caffeine

Fight or flight reflexes (which are amplified by caffeine) is great if you need a fast rather than a rational response – so have a couple of shots of espresso before walking in the Savannah (so you can run from the lions!) but go caffeine free before responding to curt emails!

Silence that negative self talk

That inner voice can be pretty damn persuasive!  But when you find yourself believing the negative and pessimistic things it says it’s time to stop and write them down.  Literally.  Stop.  Write down what you’re thinking.  Put is aside (for now) and move on.  You can’t possibly assess it objectively when you’re caught up in the stress cycle.

Reframe your perspective

You can’t control what happens, but you can control how you respond to what happens.  So before you spend time dwelling on something, take some time to look at it from some different perspectives.

Use your support system

Use your support system.  That’s what those people are there for – you know what you’d do for them, so let them do for you too!


In and out.  Especially out.   The yogis are right.  It makes a really big difference.  Concentrate on your breath solely, and your brain will thank you.


Sleeping literally recharges your brain.  It gives your brain the chance to shuffle through what happened during the day, storing and discarding the memories (which causes dreams).  You can’t wake up clear headed if you don’t sleep.


If you’re available to your work or the problem 24/7 you expose yourself to a constant barrage of stressors.  Forcing yourself to disconnect – especially by going offline – gives your body and mind a break

Avoid asking: “What if?”

The more time you spend worrying about the possibilities, the less time you’re focused on taking action.