How To Negotiate When You Are Under Pressure

The secret is knowing how to stay calm when you are under pressure
The secret is knowing how to stay calm when you are under pressure
Image Credit: Ben Chun

Pressure is a part of every negotiation. We need to understand that when we are negotiating and when we are under pressure, our ability to make good decisions may be compromised. If we can realize this, then we can make sure that we take actions that will prevent us from making bad decisions. However, what we have to learn are safeguards we need to have in place when we make decisions under pressure.

Always Think Ahead

When a disaster looms, it is all too easy for negotiators to start to feel pressured to wrap up a deal as quickly as possible. We need to remember that speed is often the enemy of a sound, lasting deal, but several safeguards can protect us the next time we negotiate. The first is to take the time to think multiple steps ahead every time we negotiate. It’s very common for negotiators to be so focused on signing a deal that they overlook the long-term challenges of implementation. This pitfall is all the more dangerous when we are involved in crisis negotiations, where parties often feel desperate to reach a deal at any cost, and quickly.

When we engage in this type of short-term thinking it will often limit us from considering the various eventualities that could unfold down the line. If negotiators can think several steps ahead, we might anticipate the possibility that a draft agreement could result in various parties getting a raw deal down the road. Diagramming potential outcomes with a decision tree is one way negotiators can bring long-range outcomes into focus. Negotiators can encourage farsighted thinking in others by (1) having negotiators articulate how their proposed contracts advance the organization’s long-term interests and (2) linking financial bonuses to progress during the early years of deal implementation rather than offering rewards for closing the deal. Finally, by adding an “if, then” contingency to a deal, both sides can agree to disagree by building incentives and penalties into the contract based on their differing predictions of the future.

Slow Things Down

Negotiators need to learn how to take a slower pace during a negotiation. In the midst of a crisis, we may feel that we have a duty to work at lightning speed in an effort to contain the situation. Yet even as we approach the problem with intensity and a sense of urgency, there is value in working methodically. An extreme form of crisis negotiation would be hostage standoffs. In these situations the perpetrators tend to be people who have “snapped” because of a personal crisis and taken hostages on impulse. These is a good chance that they are likely to be in a volatile emotional state when the crisis begins, but their rage tends to subside as time passes. Consequently, hostage negotiators view time as their most valuable tool – and they try to stall for as long as they can. Once they are freed from deadlines, the authorities try to gradually earn the hostage taker’s trust and encourage him to surrender.

Make Sure That You Monitor The Deal-Drafting Process.

After engaging in a complex negotiation process, negotiators are often happy to pass off the technicalities of deal drafting to their attorneys. Unfortunately, this handoff can be prone to errors. Deals that contain vague, contradictory, and missing deal terms are not uncommon, and they can lead to serious problems during the implementation stage. Such mistakes and oversights often arise when rushed or inexperienced lawyers start working from a prior contract in their files and fail to make sufficient changes to boilerplate language for the new deal. In addition, negotiators often fail to adequately communicate the motivations and intentions of their deal to their lawyers, and this can result in even more misunderstandings. These errors are all the more common when negotiators and their attorneys are under pressure to try to wrap up a deal quickly.

The good news is that there are at least three ways to avoid such mistakes when you negotiate. First, you need to be sure to communicate the motivations behind your deal to your legal team. This step can keep your lawyers from having to guess your intentions and thus could save you both time and money in the long run. Second, you need to resist the common tendency to merely glance over deal documents and file them away. Instead, you must read them through carefully – including drafts and memos – in order to determine whether they accurately reflect the negotiated terms as you understand them. Finally, set up a time for your lawyers to read the deal back to you in plain English, free of any legal jargon. Ask them questions about any potential ambiguities, and “stress test” any hypothetical scenarios that could arise.

What All Of This Means For You

Pressure is a part of every negotiators life. When we are engaged in a negotiation, we will always be under pressure. What this means for us is that we need to realize that we are dealing with pressure. We have to understand that how we go about making decisions when we are under pressure may be different than how we normally do it. With this realization, we can take steps to make sure that we make good decisions when we are under pressure.

During a high-stakes negotiation, we need to make sure that we always take the time to think ahead. We can diagram potential outcomes with a decision tree in order to investigate what our possible options are. During a negotiation, in order to make better decisions, we can always slow things down. Hostage negotiators use this technique. When the deal has been struck, our job is not done. We need to take the time to monitor the deal drafting process.

There is nothing that we can do about pressure. It is simply a part of the negotiating process. However, if we realize that we are operating under pressure we can be aware that it may impact how we go about making decisions. With this knowledge we can make changes to our decision making process in order to ensure that we won’t be making any decisions that we’ll end up regretting later on.

– Dr. Jim Anderson Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Negotiating Skills™

Question For You: What’s the best way to cause a negotiation to slow down?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

I think that we can all agree that any negotiation can become fairly emotional at times. There is always the possibility that you may end up doing or saying something that you will later on regret. If this does happen, should you tell the other side that you are sorry? If they do something that offends you, should they tell you that they are sorry? If they do, should you forgive them? For that matter, what role should forgiveness play in any negotiation?