What’s The Best Way To Negotiate Under Pressure?

Just exactly how can we make good decisions when we are under pressure?
Just exactly how can we make good decisions when we are under pressure? Image Credit: Thomas Hawk

Going into a negotiation can often seem like going into battle. We put on our armor, we make sure that our weapons are sharp, then we mount up and enter into the negotiating room. With this kind of mindset, you can understand just how much pressure a negotiator can feel as they begin a negotiation. The problem with feeling this way is that when we are under a great deal of pressure, the way that we go about making decisions can change. As negotiators we need to understand this and then we need to take steps to make sure that we can still make good decisions, even when we are under pressure.

When Under Pressure, Try To Think Multiple Steps Ahead

I think that we all realize that it’s common for negotiators to be so focused on signing a deal that they overlook the long-term challenges of implementation. When we are under pressure this pitfall is all the more dangerous, where parties often feel desperate to reach a deal at any cost, and quickly. This type of short-term thinking often limits us from considering the various eventualities that could confront us down the line.

We need to understand the importance of thinking multiple steps ahead in negotiation. Diagramming potential outcomes with a decision tree is one tool that we can use to 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 instead of offering rewards for closing. Finally, by adding “if, then” contingencies to a deal, we can agree to disagree by building incentives and penalties into the contract based on our differing predictions.

When Under Pressure, Try To Take A Slower Pace

Pressure affects each of us differently. When we are 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 remembering to work methodically. Why should we do this? Let’s look at an extreme form of crisis negotiation: hostage standoffs. We need to realize that the perpetrators in these situations tend to be people who have “snapped” because of a personal crisis and taken hostages on impulse. They are likely to be in a volatile emotional state when the crisis begins, however their rage tends to subside as time passes. Hostage negotiators view time as their most valuable tool – and they try to stall for as long as they can. Freed from deadlines, these negotiators try to gradually earn the hostage taker’s trust and encourage them to surrender.

Always Monitor The Deal-Drafting Process

Let’s face it, after we have engaged in a complex negotiation process, we are often happy to pass off the technicalities of deal drafting to our attorneys. Unfortunately, this handoff is prone to errors. The problem with doing this is that deals with 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 negotiators start working from a prior contract from their files and fail to make sufficient changes to boilerplate language. Additionally, negotiators often fail to adequately communicate the motivations and intentions of their deal to their lawyers, resulting in misunderstandings. These types of errors are all the more common when negotiators and their attorneys are under pressure to wrap up a deal quickly.

What we need to understand is that there are at least three ways to avoid such mistakes when you negotiate. First, be sure to communicate the motivations behind the deal to your legal team. This step keeps your lawyers from having to guess what your intentions were and thus could save you both time and money in the long run. Second, resist the tendency to merely glance over deal documents and file them away. Instead, read them through carefully to determine whether they accurately reflect the negotiated terms as you understand them. Third, set up time for your lawyers to read the deal back to you in plain English, free of any legal jargon. While they are doing this, ask questions about any potential ambiguities, and “stress test” hypothetical scenarios that could arise.

What All Of This Means For You

The life of a negotiator is one that is filled with a great deal of pressure. What this means for us is that we will often find ourselves having to make decisions while under pressure. We need to understand that this can cause us to make mistakes and do things that we really should not do. We need a way to be able to make good decisions even when we are under pressure.

Something that we can do that can prevent us from making mistakes is to take the time to think multiple steps ahead. We can also attempt to slow the pace of the negotiations down. Once the deal has been struck, make sure that you monitor the deal drafting process. Either we or our lawyers may make mistakes and so we need to take steps to prevent this from happening.

There is nothing that we can do about the pressure that comes along with being a negotiator. However, we can understand that this is the life that we are living and take steps to minimize the errors that working under pressure can cause. If we can do this, then we’ll be able to make decisions under pressure that we will be happy with once the pressure is no longer there.

Let’s all face it: for better or for worse the next time that we enter into a negotiation, we’re going to be bringing our personality along with us. We may not spend a lot of time thinking about this, I mean it’s just who we are. However, there is a fundamental question that we really should be spending some time considering. Is our personality helping or hindering our negotiating efforts? Do we know how to evaluate what type of personality we have? Can we tell what types of personalities the other negotiators have? Does any of this really matter?