The ability to effectively negotiate is immensely valuable in all aspects of business. Yet, while some people enthusiastically jump at the chance to engage in deal-making, others shy away from it.

If you tend toward the latter and feel apprehensive about the negotiation process, consider these five tips to help calm your nerves and boost your confidence before your next experience at the bargaining table.

TIPS FOR PEOPLE WHO HATE NEGOTIATING

1. Plan to Improvise


Preparation is a critical element of skillful deal-making. At the outset of a negotiation, you should not only have a clear understanding of the outcomes you hope to achieve, but also a firm grasp of the other party’s goals.

Have a game plan in mind when you arrive at the bargaining table, but don’t make it too rigid. A lot can be learned throughout the course of a negotiation, and you should be ready to improvise and adapt to new information as it’s revealed.

According to Harvard Business School Professor Mike Wheeler, who teaches Negotiation Mastery, you should be both proactive and responsive as you work toward an agreement.

“You can’t script negotiation,” writes Wheeler in the Harvard Business Review. “Instead, you need a supple strategy you can adapt to the situation at hand. Opportunities pop up. So do obstacles.”

Before talks begin, assess the best and worst case scenarios so that you’re prepared to propose solutions to challenges as they arise. Keep your focus trained on the results you hope to accomplish, but recognize the path you take to reach them may not be the one you initially laid out.

    Related: 4 Tips for Developing a Successful Negotiation Strategy

2. Stick to Your Own Strategy, But Be Flexible


There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to achieving success in a negotiation. The tactics that lead to a positive outcome in one situation may fall flat under different circumstances, so it’s best to avoid replicating someone else’s strategy simply because you think it will lead to a similar result.

“It doesn’t work to try to adopt a strategy of somebody else, especially if you're not that comfortable with it,” says Amy Chu, founder of Alpha Girl Comics, in an interview for Negotiation Mastery. “It can reveal some of your own insecurities.”


That doesn’t mean you should stay strictly within the confines of your comfort zone.

“That’s also dangerous,” Chu says. “Maybe you’re very comfortable with it, but it doesn’t quite work for the other party.”

Negotiation is a two-way street, so you need to be willing to actively listen to and engage with the other side. Employ a bargaining approach that aligns with your personal values and objectives, but keep in mind that flexibility and cooperation are key to maximizing value for all parties involved.

3. Don’t Be Afraid to Make Mistakes


A negotiation doesn’t always go according to plan. Mistakes happen, and how you deal with them can impact the end result.

In an interview for Negotiation Mastery, Chris Voss, former lead international kidnapping negotiator for the FBI, says nearly any mistake you make at the bargaining table can be overcome if you’re considerate and deferential to the other side.

“There’s great power in deference, so whatever mistakes you're afraid of making—and everyone makes mistakes—you can overcome them almost every time with a respectful approach,” Voss says.

As talks get underway, make it clear to the other side that you’ve worked to understand their point of view, but also recognize the negotiation will be a learning process. Express your hope that any misinterpretation will be viewed as an opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of each other’s position, enabling you to work together toward mutually beneficial solutions.

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4. Take Charge of Your Emotions


Engaging in a negotiation requires both your head and heart. Your emotions can help you passionately advocate for your wants and needs, but be detrimental if not properly managed.

While anger and anxiety can cause a deal to crumble, emotions on the other end of the spectrum, such as happiness, can be pitfalls if you prematurely agree to the other party’s demands to avoid tension.

"You don't want your happiness to hijack other emotions," says Andy Wasynczuk, Senior Lecturer at Harvard Business School, in an article for Working Knowledge. "What we teach is not to settle for something that is just OK, but to keep searching for something where both sides are going to benefit."

As you prepare to negotiate, try not to suppress your emotions. Instead, focus on your feelings and consider how you might channel that energy into your deal-making strategy.

    Related: What Not to Do in a Negotiation

5. Focus on Building a Relationship


The impact of a negotiation can extend well beyond a single deal. Business relationships can be formed and strengthened throughout the course of discussions, opening the door to future opportunities for value creation.

“Negotiation isn't just about making a deal,” says Jim Levine, principal at Levine Greenberg Rostan Literary Agency, who's featured in Negotiation Mastery. “It's about making a deal in a way that preserves my relationships with other people and that makes them want to have further negotiations with me in whatever we're doing.”


Instead of seeing negotiation as a conflict that ends with a winner and a loser, try to approach it as an opportunity for mutual problem-solving that can reap long-term rewards. This shift in focus can make the negotiation process seem less adversarial and equip you with the creative mindset needed to thrive at the bargaining table.

EMBRACING THE NEGOTIATION PROCESS

The negotiation process doesn’t have to be an agonizing experience. Skillful bargaining takes a great deal of work, but the payoff is invaluable.

Adequate preparation and a shift in mindset can go a long way, setting you on a path to securing maximum value for yourself and your organization in the agreements you reach.

Do you want to hone your negotiation skills? Explore our eight-week online course Negotiation Mastery and learn how to craft an agile strategy and deal with different bargaining styles and tactics.

Matt Gavin

About the Author

Matt Gavin is a member of the marketing team at HBX. Prior to returning to his home state of Massachusetts and joining HBX, he lived in Charlotte, North Carolina, where he handled content writing and social media for a company that investigates claims for insurance carriers. He has a background in video production, and previously worked on several documentary films for Boston’s PBS station, WGBH. In his spare time, he enjoys running, exploring New England, and spending time with his family.