How to take time to prepare for negotiation (and leave negotiation anxiety behind!)Mar 27, 2022
Let's be honest, there is nothing fun about the leadup to a negotiation. Just like most uncomfortable conversations, the leadup to it can be worse than the actual conversation itself. So as you approach it, I want to encourage you to match the effort you put into building your negotiation strategy with the effort you put into managing your energy. This will help you to reduce anxiety and increase confidence going into your next negotiation.
Negotiation fear and anxiety is normal
You know what I'm talking about. The racing mind. The conversations you have in your head (or, if you're like me, they're out loud too). The endless cycle of self-doubt juxtaposed with intervals of indignant self-confidence ("I should just take what I can get." vs. "Damn right I'm going to fight for what I deserve."). This is where your mind likes to hang out when you're approaching a negotiation.
The fear and anxiety you experience come from your mind's incredibly agile ability to go down every possible rabbit hole, exploring potential outcomes (and most often, potential disasters), imagining what you will say and do, and worrying about the potential result. The bad news - this is really hard to avoid entirely. The good news - there are some simple and practical things you can do right now (or whenever you're experiencing these feelings) to manage your energy and reduce the level of negotiation anxiety you are experiencing.
Anybody can negotiate like a pro
The truth is that we negotiate every day in our lives. From dividing responsibilities at home, negotiating project details and workloads in the office, to negotiating tasks on your volunteer board, you actually engage in negotiation all the time. If you're like most women, you prefer to avoid the word negotiation, and call it collaboration - because "negotiation" actually elicits a physical response in your body and mind. Maybe your mouth gets dry or you feel like your throat is closing up - or maybe you feel discomfort in the pit of your stomach, just by focusing your energy on the associations that the word brings up. Those are totally normal responses.
You probably don't get sick to your stomach thinking about dividing the task of cleaning your house. That said, it isn't unusual for women to experience discomfort in asking for what they need. I still get a tightness in my throat every time I ask my daughters to help me - even with requests like, "can you please clean the bathroom this weekend." For such a simple request, I tend to spend way more time than necessary finding the right tone of voice, words, and moment in the day. Oh - you can relate? Phew! Glad it's not just me.
Dividing household chores is one thing. Negotiating the big steps in life is an entirely different level, and so the experience is exponentially more intense when we are approaching a negotiation where the outcomes really matter. If your throat closes up asking your kids to wipe their toothpaste off the mirror, of course you're going to experience physical symptoms when you negotiate a new job or start negotiating the terms of a new contract with a business partner. And that's because there is so much more at stake in business negotiation.
How can you improve your negotiation skills? Practice.
Just like with any new skill that elicits anxiety, your experience around negotiation will improve every time you practice. The words will roll more easily off your tongue. You'll be able to recognize benefits that mis-align to your values and respond with confidence to redirect or counteroffer options that are more advantageous. And your knowledge about the process of back and forth discussion will strengthen every time you exercise your negotiation muscles.
Thankfully, you don't need to wait until the big negotiations to build your skills. In fact, the more comfortable you can become in negotiating every day, the easier it will be to prepare your negotiation strategy and manage your mindset. An important part of mindset management is energy management - and this is something we can practice every day.
Four questions to help you prepare for your next negotiation
I want you to imagine your next negotiation.and ask yourself these four questions as you prepare:
- How do you want to show up for the negotiation?
- How do you want to feel when you sit down in the conversation?
- What do you want the other person to experience when they interact with you?
- What vibe do you want to give off?
The vibe that we emit in a stressful situation, like a negotiation, is the result of both controlled and uncontrolled aspects of our energy. When we are under stress, our body produces high levels of both adrenaline and cortisol - the hormones that help us with the "fight or flight" response and to remain on edge, aware, and ready for action. This is a physiological response to your body and mind experiencing a feeling of being unsafe. The problem is that when we have large adrenaline and cortisol loads in our system, it's obvious. We are jumpy, abrupt, and can come across as rude - none of which will help you in a negotiation.
Most women I coach tell me that they want to show up calm, cool, and collected to a negotiation. They want to feel confident in their ability to make strategic decisions. They want the other person to see them as capable and effective - and give off a vibe of integrity, assurance, and competency. So let's talk about how to manage your energy so you can do that.
How to manage your energy for confidence in negotiation
It's hard to appear like a pro when you are fighting your body's chemistry. Even if you say all the right things, your movements will be jumpy, your voice tight, and your focus narrow. So rather trying to fake it, I recommend you invest in reducing your overall stress to increase your confidence. Move your body. Fill your cup with positive experiences. Prioritize yourself. Visualize the best possible outcome.
What I’m telling you has its roots in psychological research related to mental health. Surely, you've heard that one of the best things you can do when your mental health is struggling is to move your body. This is because exercise (or just getting your heart pumping faster) changes your hormonal chemistry. Your body releases endorphins, which improve your mood and your outlook. The same goes for spending time with people who lift your spirits, spending time on hobbies that you can lose yourself in, laughing, having fun, and filling your proverbial cup with joy. These experiences insulate us from negative thoughts, anxiety, and stress. This helps us to be more confident, because we are less easily distracted by insecurity.
Six ways to manage anxiety before a negotiation
I'm anticipating a really big negotiation later this week (I'll tell you more when I can). Full disclosure: it's had me on edge - extremely worried, anxious, and fearful of the worst case scenario while also hoping and daydreaming about the best case scenario. I know that none of that is helping me to prepare to show up as my best self. So after spending some time in an anxiety spiral, I've made the decision to respect and love myself and prioritize the activities that will help me show up with confidence.
My daily journaling has taken on a life of its own. I usually write three pages. Right now, I'm writing 10-15 a day. Always first thing in the morning, to brain-dump, strategize, and examine my feelings from a more objective perspective. But I never leave the house without my journal in hand. Anytime I feel anxious or worried, I open it up and put pen to paper. If I can get it out of my head, I can move forward with my day without getting lost in worry. As I've written about before, I take the "dance like nobody is watching" approach to journalling. I write everything that comes out of my mind - regardless of how stupid, foolish, insecure, or inaccurate it may be. By giving those thoughts space on paper, I free them from my mind and choose which ones I want to carry forward.
Some days it's just a stretch session. Half an hour of lying on my yoga mat, stretching out the parts of me that store my stress. My back. My hips. My neck. But most days, I also move my body. I'm enrolled in a beginner workout program that has me doing resistance training 3 days a week, and I LOVE it. It makes me feel strong and powerful every time I push through a workout. And in just two weeks, my cardio is stronger, I can do a few extra pushups, and my knees are feeling less crunchy than they did when I started. I'm not counting calories. I'm not even recording my workouts on my smart watch. I'm moving my body because I feel good when I move my body. When I feel strong and powerful after a workout, that translates to feeling strong and powerful in my life.
All I want to do is lay on the couch and watch mindless shows while endlessly scrolling social media. Truth. But when I do that, I start the self-comparison game. So I'm limiting social media (sorry if you love my long rambling stories) to no more than an hour a day, and only watching shows that lift me up (I highly recommend Ted Lasso, Moxie, and The Adam Project). I'm spending more time reading, lost in fiction and beautiful poetry. I'm filling my mind with delicious words and joyful entertainment.
Fuelling my Body
Again, I'm not counting calories or being restrictive; I'm adding in good things to squeeze out the less-good choices. I'm trying to drink more water - so I bought a case of Bubly to help with that. I am simplifying my lunches by eating pre-portioned salads and adding in a source of protein. If I'm out and want a treat, that's fine. But I made the decision to not buy the party-sized bag of Chicago Mix from Costco or the case of M&M Peanut candy I saw on sale at Sobeys. Instead, I’m keeping lots of fresh fruits in the house for easy and healthy snacking.
Leaning on my Circle
I believe every woman needs a circle of wisdom and support that she can lean on. I am grateful for my husband who is calm and rational, who believes deeply in me, and who knows the words and actions to reassure me when I'm feeling insecure. But I have also reached out to my brilliant circle of friends and am saying yes to opportunities to inject some fun into my life. Last week, I spent a couple of hours playing arcade games and laughing with some wonderful people. I have had many conversations with dear friends who remind me of how awesome I am, and give me the space to talk about my worries.
When your body is full of cortisol, sleep is a non-negotiable. Normally, I keep consistent hours, with consistent levels of sleep, even throughout the weekend. But right now, I'm just letting my body do what it needs. If I'm tired, I'm napping. No alarms on the weekend - I'm just letting myself get up when it's time. And where possible, I'm scheduling meetings for later in the day, so I can use my morning energy to work through the most challenging tasks I have on my plate each day.
Remember to be a supportive friend to yourself through a negotiation
When you're anticipating a tough negotiation and under stress, you don't think as clearly. You forget things, mis-speak, and make mistakes. And that's ok. There's no benefit to beating yourself up. When you notice that you're just not operating at the level that you're used to, ask yourself why. Remind yourself of the energy you want to bring to that conversation. And then ask yourself this question: What are three things I can do to build that energy for myself?
Are you ready to take on your next negotiation?
Lose the negotiation anxiety and self doubt in my Strategic Salary Negotiation course. You'll gain the strategies and tools you need to negotiate with confidence.