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  • Erin Gleason Alvarez

Mindfulness in Negotiation Planning

A Framework for Approaching Important Conversations With Clarity and Calm

Is it important to make a plan before you negotiate?

Many people think that it's a waste of time to prepare for negotiation in advance because negotiation is a fluid process, involving multiple people and varied interests/ perspectives. How can you plan for that? And aren't you setting yourself up for failure if you take this potentially myopic approach?

While I agree that fluidity and varied perspectives are integral elements of he process, this does not excuse anybody from making time to clarify what you want to accomplish in a negotiation and why.

By familiarizing yourself with some key techniques for better understanding the dynamics of a negotiation, and getting clear on your priorities, you empower yourself, clarify your priorities (and theirs), and increase the likelihood of better outcomes.

Working out your approach to the conversation in advance is also a great way to take the fear and unknown out of the process, hurdles that often hinder success at the negotiation table.

Here are 10 things you can do for a calmer, more productive approach to negotiation.

1) Set your goals. Under ideal circumstances, what does it look like at the end of the negotiation? What are you working towards?

2) For each of your goals in this negotiation, list at least five reasons why you want or deserve it. These are your interests in the negotiation.

3) Now revisit your list. Will the other people in this discussion with you agree or disagree with the goals you have set, or with the interests you have listed? Make note of this, too.

4) Then think about what they want. What are their likely objectives in the negotiation? For each of their goals, list their interests as well.

5) Do you agree or disagree with any of their goals/reasons? Why? Are there any areas where your goals or interests overlap with theirs? Where are your goals farthest apart?

6) Go back to your original list of goals now. Rate them in order of importance to you. Rate them again in order of how objectionable they may be to the other side. Then do the same for their goals.

7) Consider the relationship you have now, and what you desire in the future for that relationship. Is it ongoing? Will you continue to work together? Or is it time to move on?

8) With this framework in mind, brainstorm solutions and ways to achieve your goals. For each goal, list reasons why it would also benefit them. Or evaluate what you are willing to offer them, or potentially give up, in order to meet a certain goal.

9) Memorialize your plan, including your goals and interests, possible solutions and strategies.

10) Remember that no matter the circumstances, there are two sides to every story. Commit to not take things personally, to listen and keep an open mind. These conversations are about give and take. Not win or lose.

Practice tips:

  • Make sure you are not setting the bar too low for yourself… do not start the negotiation off by having a debate between you and you about how little your goals are worth.

  • In developing your goals, never start out where you want to end up. Leave room for yourself to negotiate. There are no hard and fast rules for knowing what the appropriate increase should be – this really depends on your research, evaluation of the situation, how far apart you think you are from the other participants in the negotiation, and so on.

How mindfulness comes in...

Negotiations happen every day. But those we take particular note of often tend to impact significant aspects of our lives – our businesses, income, partnerships, loved ones.

Before you sit down to plan this out, you need to chill out. Prior to any negotiation planning exercise, I suggest you find some time in your calendar when you will be undisturbed and in a comfortable place. Meditate first. That's right. One of the best ways to quiet your mind is to commit to a block of two minutes, five minutes, ten minutes – whatever you can spare – to let everything go and just breathe. The thoughts will still come, but once you realize you’re back in thought-land, commit to returning to your breathing for this finite period of time.

As you set goals, watch how you are feeling. Is it exciting – this opportunity that’s so close? Or daunting? Do you feel happy or nervous? Maybe all of the above?

Acknowledge your feelings but take care of your reactions to them. The negotiation planning stage, where you are largely on your own, brainstorming should be a practical, but also positive experience. Working from a place of fear or panic will only lead to more of that, which is not helpful to you or healthy for you.

Remember -- the objective of this planning exercise is to help set you up for a successful negotiation experience and outcome by gaining clarity on the goals and priorities that you, and others, will bring to the table. Also remember that the goals you identify must also be constructed with the knowledge that they will be put forward in a negotiation – so they will likely change as the conversation develops. That is, after all, the purpose and true meaning of negotiation.

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