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  • Erin Gleason Alvarez

Proceeding Without Judgment in Negotiation

For a long time, my approach to negotiations was completely competitive/combative. In my head, negotiation was a challenge. And I would win that challenge. And anyone who opposed me was wrong. The End.

Somewhere along the way, I realized that all this combativeness led mostly to stress, headaches, probably not the best solutions, and probably lots of lost opportunities.

So I began to educate myself on how to keep an open mind when I don’t want to; how to stay present when I’d rather be mentally preparing my next retort; and generally how to be more aware of the snap judgments that human brains like to make.

In Full Catastrophe Living, Jon Kabat Zinn’s first book on the importance of mindfulness, he includes non-judgment as one of the seven pillars of mindfulness. In the book, he explains that when we start to pay closer attention to living in the present moment, and being aware of those thoughts that pop up for us, it’s normal to begin to see the micro and macro judgments we make instinctively all of the time.

Mindfulness highlights assumptions we may be making about the world, people, and circumstances around us, and encourages us to take a step back to consider that there may be other answers aside from those we see.

So for example, if I am in a negotiation with someone and they do not make eye contact with me, I might judge that behavior as insincere, and worry that they aren’t looking me in the eye because they are hiding something or flat out lying to me.

But if I take a step back after catching this thought pattern to reflect on whether there is another possibility aside from my own judgment… For example, is my reaction more a function of my cultural interpretation of the situation? In other cultures, looking down when you speak can be a sign of respect or deference. Moreover, on the flip side, the other person in this discussion might very well read my prolonged eye contact as creepy or rude. If I go with my own misplaced judgment, I’m setting myself up for a discussion that will be challenged by my own misinterpretations.

There are plenty of examples of misplaced judgments when it comes to cross cultural negotiation. But even those discussions within a culture can be rife with opportunities for misplaced judgments. As a mediator, one of the most common examples I see is when people interrupt one another. People often see this manner of speaking as a clear sign of disrespect (even though they’ve also done it in that same conversation) and shut right down.

Are there other reasons people interrupt each other? Perhaps to get a point out before they forget. Perhaps they are nervous. Or maybe they feel like they just had a great idea and are eager to share it. Some people honestly don’t even know they do this in conversation - it’s just part of the way they naturally communicate with other people (so it’s not coming from a bad place).

If you naturally assume that an interrupter is disrespectful, this puts you on a path to disliking that person, not trusting them, and probably not wanting to collaborate with them in the context of a negotiation. And this, plainly, does not help you or the negotiation process you are in.

So, learn to recognize when your brain is making judgments. This can be accomplished by simply being curious. In your own mind, when you make a decision about a person or a circumstance that you do not like, take a minute to ask yourself why? Is there a different way to see things? Is it possible for you to let go of the judgment - at least for a short while - in order to remain open to other possibilities?

Let me know!


P.S. Interested in learning more ways to succeed in negotiation and feel good about it? Join me for a unique group coaching experience that begins on October 5, 2022, Compass by Take Charge Negotiations.

I created Compass by Take Charge Negotiations based on my own positive experience in incorporating mindfulness in my negotiation strategy. This methodology is based on the intertwining of negotiation theory and practice with mindfulness and positivity in problem-solving and decision-making.

The way we approach decisions and address problems is similar to a journey. With each, there are many ways you can choose to go. The choices you make will likely impact your experience - whether the path before you is rough or smooth, exposed or shaded, filled with peaks and valleys or a straight shot. . .

In making the choices that will create your best path forward, you need a guidepost to make sure you are headed in the right direction and to keep you on that path. Compass is our method for helping you clear such a path. We'll delve into why mindfulness is so important when conflicts arise, how to plan for difficult conversations, address power imbalances, and much more.


Open to 12 people only. Click here for more information and to register today.

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