emotional control

One of the major game changers in negotiation is the ability to successfully control emotional responses. A counterpart may use shock tactics such as aggression to create an unplanned emotional reaction. In this state, it is all too easy to accidentally disclose information that can tip the balance of power. The skilled negotiator is aware of this risk and is prepared to be provoked.

Matt Maia a Senior Consultant at The Gap Partnership proposes five strategies for channelling emotions to your advantage during a negotiation.


In order to prepare yourself for an impending emotional response, it’s important to understand your vulnerabilities. Everybody is different so there is no one solution to managing emotions. To take control you need to address your own specific weaknesses and blind spots.

First things first: Reflection and self-assessment

Start to keep a record of your emotional reactions, feelings, and associated body language each time you have conducted a negotiation. Remember, negotiations don’t happen exclusively in the office, so consider the negotiations you are undertaking in all aspects of your life. If possible, ask for feedback from colleagues, family and friends.

Try to identify patterns. Do you start to shake or stumble over words when you are nervous or uncomfortable? Could a counterpart spot a smirk or blush that could give away your position?

Next step: Action plan.

Once you begin to understand the situations you need to manage, you can begin to utilize strategies to change your behavior. If you can manage your emotions and discomfort better than your counterpart, you are more likely to take control.

Pair up with a colleague to conduct a mock negotiation making sure that your colleague deploys the triggers that you know will unsettle you. Practice responding in a different way to your instinctive reaction. For example, if you know your tendency is to talk quickly and stumble over words, take time to pause and breathe deeply before you reply.

Once you have practiced in the safe environment with your colleague, start utilizing your techniques in the real world. Keep returning to step one and reflecting and assessing your progress.

This strategy is simple: Understand yourself, practice, change.

Strategy 2: Mental Coaching

“When it comes to negotiations, leave your emotions at the door.” In The Negotiation Book Steve Gates writes: “Behavioral, mental control and emotional detachment are all needed to get inside the other party’s head.” I cannot emphasize this enough. The emotional part of your brain, the limbic lobe, creates reactive and often irrational responses, filling in gaps with non-factual theories. The more rational part of your brain, the frontal lobe, calculates a course of action based on facts and data, with input from your emotions. During negotiations it is imperative to pay special attention to this part of your brain and your more rational approach to thinking.

This second strategy is very simple but requires organization and reasoning. The objective is to effectively pause or hold your emotions until an appropriate time. Prior to going into a negotiation you must remind yourself that emotional analysis and emotive reactions are helpful to get a broader perspective, but during this meeting they are not needed and you will review the situation fully with your emotions after the meeting. Be very clear with yourself and allow ten minutes after each negotiation (planned into your diary) to make a list of your emotional responses and thinking. This is a great exercise that will not only relieve stress but will decrease tension in your mind between your frontal lobe, and your limbic lobe, allowing you to think more clearly.

This approach is explored in more detail in the book Mind Management by Professor Steve Peters.

Strategy 3: 30 Minutes Prep

Let’s face it, there isn’t always enough time to prepare a detailed plan for negotiations. However, it is very often the more prepared party that will maximize the value of the deal. If you find yourself in a situation where you have limited time to prepare, this 30 minute strategy will ensure you cover the fundamentals and are emotionally prepared for your negotiation.

First, write a list of topics that if raised during the negotiation could provoke an emotional response. Remember to include your own emotional triggers that you identified in Strategy 1.

Secondly, add to the list areas where you think it is likely your counterpart will try to apply pressure. For example,

if you are currently negotiating with a retail buyer who continuously attempts to weaken your position by calling your company non-collaborative, assume they will do the same again.

Finally, for each topic you have identified, decide on and write down your response. For example:

Topic: Raised voice and aggression

Response: “Please do not raise your voice. I would like us to speak to each other in a professional manner.”

Topic: Extreme demand for cost reduction

Response: Extreme demand for distribution improvement

You will be surprised at the number of areas you can predict during this preparation, and how much more comfortable you feel having completed this exercise, despite its brevity.

Strategy 4: Mindset Management

Once you understand your own mindset and emotional processing, you will start to understand the emotions of others, and you will be able to identify highly emotive states. By mastering your own mindset you can begin to exert influence on others.

There are many different ways to approach this topic. Meditation and mindfulness can offer great benefits by enabling you to clear your head of emotive thinking, remove stress easily, and be in the present moment. Yoga is also a discipline that can aid focus and strength of mind.

Any and all of these methods can positively aid the skills of the successful negotiator by placing control more firmly in their hands.

Strategy 5: Communicate Honestly

This strategy is for those instances when you are struggling to gain control of your emotional reactions during a negotiation. The most important thing is to firstly recognize when this is happening. You will start to see your behaviour taking on the patterns that you identified in yourself during Strategy 1.

The next step is to breathe. Stop talking, and try to put the rational part of your mind back into control. This can be an extremely difficult task. You may be experiencing many emotions all at once. You may be fearful of a loss of a contract, and resent the other party because of this. You may be ashamed if you lose the business, and nervous about what the other party will do next. Remember that being led by your emotions means your brain fills in the gaps and overthinks as a built-in protection strategy. Giving into this can cause more stress and an emotionally driven reaction. Honest communication is a critical strategy for these occasions.

Typically, people in an emotive state will try to hide the fact that they are emotional, and struggle through a meeting with their mind clouded. They then make poor decisions or rush to solutions too quickly minimizing value. Take a time­out. Tell the other party you would like a break in order to reflect on where the negotiation has reached. You could say: “I would like to take five minutes of my own time to reflect on where the deal is.”

This strategy is about being aware of yourself, and having the ability to take control of proceedings. This requires a high level of confidence, as it will certainly make you feel uncomfortable, but it will be highly beneficial to the outcome.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here