In ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’, goodie pilot Poe Dameron faces up to black-masked baddie, Kylo Ren, in what should be an extremely intimidating negotiation. On his knees, with a gun pointed at his head and explosions occurring all around him, Poe sits in silence for a second. Then he asks:
"Are you talking first? Or am I? Who’s supposed to talk first?"
When we go into negotiation mode, it can very often feel like we're on our knees, gun poised awaiting the potential explosion of it not going the way we need it to. But we, like Poe, need to take control of the situation. Our enemy is not Kylo Ren, nor is it the person we’re in negotiation with … it’s us.
Tension makes many people nervous, and with nervousness comes more tension. In situations where we need a clear head, we fall into a self-destructive cycle that impacts our performance. Our body knows when a meeting or negotiation session could be a deal breaker; we sense the danger and risk, and our body goes into “fight or flight” mode – either of which could sabotage the negotiation. The more important the negotiation, the more our body reacts to the pressure of the moment.
Apprehension and nervousness play out physically; we are unable to relax, often unable sleep, and this just adds to negative tension; our hearts race, our palms sweat, and we feel butterflies hurtling around in our gut.
This is where that emotional intelligence we’ve heard all about comes into play. Heading into a sweaty-palm situation, be prepared, emotionally, physically and commercially.
Be emotionally prepared for negotiation
Recognizing tension in certain situations enables you to deal with it head on. With the growing belief that intelligently managed tension is actually a good thing, you can comfortably welcome healthy tension and use it as a catalyst for optimal negotiation results.
One of the physical side effects of negative tension and anxiety is babbling, talking simply to avoid silence, or talking too much to try to justify a position. In effective negotiation, talking too much because of nervousness or tension is one element that really must be tamed. Effective negotiation happens best when you listen to your customers – something that will simply not happen if you’re talking throughout the negotiation.
Claire Yullie of Indie Retail Academy, who coaches artists and independent craft people to effectively sell their wares, turns to acting techniques to help overcome those feelings of terror. Accepting that your body is going to move into fight or flight mode when the pressure is on really helps.
‘OK, body,’ the brain says, ‘You go ahead. I’ll be up here doing my job – you’re free to feel as scared as you want, but that’s not going to stop me nailing this negotiation.’ By doing this, allowing your natural, physical reaction to a tense situation to occur, you take back control of the situation and move back in charge.
As Tom Wallace, well-known speaker and author of ‘Sales & Operations’ states: "People need to understand that conflict is good provided it's handled positively, and that it should be expected. They need to know that S&OP engenders disagreement, thus it's OK to disagree, and that they must come to resolution."
Visualize the negotiation
Before heading into a negotiation, visualize how you see it progressing. Think of visualization as a mental rehearsal of what you want to say, how you will act, where you will sit, which passive cues you will use, and how you will react to each stage of the negotiation. Visualize the most desired outcome.
John Kehoe, author of ‘Mind Power Into The 21st Century’ explains that visualization is when “You create images in your mind of your having or doing whatever it is you want. You repeat these images over and over again. I suggest to my students that they practice this technique for five minutes each day. In your five-minute practice, you use your imagination to see yourself being successful, closing the deal … The key to remember when visualizing is to always visualize that you already have the thing you want.”
And he’s not the only one:
“The mind is really so incredible,” said Arnold Schwarzenegger. “Before I won my first Mr. Universe title, I walked around the tournament like I owned it. I had won it so many times in my mind, the title was already mine. Then when I moved on to the movies I used the same technique. I visualized daily being a successful actor and earning big money.”
Taking the time to visualize your negotiation will help you feel completely prepared before you sit down, which, in turn, will help you stay on top of the destructive negative tension and play into the hands of positive, effective tension even in the hardest negotiations.
Be physically prepared for negotiation
“While daily stressors may seem minor compared to major life events, they can have immediate negative impacts on physical and psychological well-being,” say the authors of ‘Solving Tomorrow’s Problems Today? Daily Anticipatory Coping and Reactivity to Daily Stressors’
If you let tension rule, you aren’t able to perform effectively in any situation, let alone in a high-stakes negotiation session. As webmd says “Stress is a part of life. What matters most is how you handle it.”
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America reported that 14% of people surveyed use exercise as a way to handle tension, and of those 29% walked, 20% ran and 11% did yoga.
“Studies show that exercise is very effective at reducing fatigue, improving alertness and concentration, and at enhancing overall cognitive function,” ADAA continues. “This can be especially helpful when stress has depleted your energy or ability to concentrate…About five minutes of aerobic exercise can begin to stimulate anti-anxiety effects.”
Tap into the positive tension in your negotiation sessions by doing some exercise before hand. A run, a walk, or a swim will give your mind time to go over the details of your negotiation and review your visualization before you sit down. Having a shower and putting on a fresh shirt will also help you step up because it’ll make you feel good and back in control.
Be commercially prepared
This is probably the most important step. You know your stuff, you know your product, you have done the research, and you know how the negotiation is going to play out because you have left no stone unturned in your preparations. You need to know your customers inside and out to help them make the right business decisions.
The authors of ‘Solving Tomorrow’s Problems Today? Daily Anticipatory Coping and Reactivity to Daily Stressors’ found that “strategies to deal with stress included rehearsing a plan (e.g., coming up with a plan when an interpersonal conflict is foreseen) may reduce the negative effect of a stressor that is likely to occur.”
Ultimately, allowing tension to take over any situation is never going to end well. Tapping into tension and taking advantage of all the positives it can give you will set the scene for a successful, effective negotiation at any level – and there’s no need to pack a light sabre, either.
 The S&OP Tension Convention: Two S&OP Pros Square Off on the Issue of Conflict Within the Process, By Patrick Bower and Glen Fossella, Journal of Business Forecasting, Winter 2013-2014
30+ years of experience helping salespeople transform their sales dialogues and engage with even the most challenging professional buyers.