Making your emotions work for you

But too often, people refuse to acknowledge their full range of feelings because they’re afraid of losing the ability to think rationally and act strategically, says HBR. So researchers and experts in the fields of psychology and business have offered solutions to help people manage, defeat, or even ignore their emotions.

That may sound easier said than done, so here’s a five-step approach to make the best use of your emotions during a negotiation:

Step 1: Be mindful. Mindfulness is the first step. This means noticing and accepting what’s happening around you from the expressions on other peoples’ faces to any emotions you’re feeling in that moment, such as anxiety or pride.

Imagine that you’re at a monthly executive meeting proposing a strategy to market a new product.As you present your idea, you simultaneously notice that you feel a sense of pride because you’ve prepared a solid presentation, but you’re also frustrated because it seems that some people aren’t buying into your proposal. Compassionately noticing these feeling is the first step. Then you need to evaluate them.

In this case, you would ask yourself whether feeling — and expressing — your frustration will help or hinder your goals. If it will help — and in some cases it could — then that’s a useful emotion. Go ahead and feel it. However, if you think it will get in the way of what you’re trying to achieve, try to redirect that emotion.

That’s where the next steps come in. Your goal in steps 2-4 is to genuinely feel the emotion you want to experience, whether it’s frustration, anger, empathy, or happiness, because you believe it will be productive.

Step 2: Identify your emotional trigger and focus on something else. Once you’ve identified the emotion you want to change, find the source of it. For example, you might survey the room – observing the people in it, their reactions, and the environment. While watching, you might realise that the man sitting across from you is raising his eyebrows and frowning during your presentation and this is what’s causing your frustration.

If you can precisely identify what triggered your emotion, then you can choose to focus on other things or people. There’s a reason why psychologists suggest that if we want to feel relaxed, we should close our eyes and imagine being on a beach. Changing what you focus on has the power to change your emotion. In this case, you might ignore the frowning man and focus instead on the CEO who’s nodding and smiling at you. You effectively seek out a trigger that causes a more helpful emotion.

Step 3: Reinterpret the trigger. Often our initial interpretation of a trigger is based on what we most fear. You might see the man who raised his eyebrows and frowned as a critic because you’re worried that your presentation isn’t good enough. But you can reinterpret the trigger to help spark another emotion. Imagine instead that he forgot to wear his contact lenses and was squinting to read the small font on your slide. This alternative interpretation of the same exact data — his facial expression — could replace your frustration with relief or empathy.

Step 4: Alter the emotion by changing its physiological expression. If steps 2 or 3 don’t work for you — perhaps the emotion is already full-blown or others have sensed you’re feeling frustrated ­— there’s another option. You can alter physiological things like your facial expression, body posture, or breathing to decrease, intensify, or replace the emotion. If you’ve already started showing frustration, then you could try turning toward the projector and directing your frustration at the small font size. Or, if you want to feel calm instead of frustrated, then you can try slowing down your speaking pace.

Step 5: Take action that others will see. For the most part, the previous steps happen internally and are ideally invisible to your counterparts. But feeling the right emotion isn’t enough – your actions need to reflect those emotions. You can do this verbally — for example, by apologising to the raised-eyebrow man for the small font size— or non-verbally— displaying a curious look rather than frowning back. Or you could do it both ways and smile at the man and ask him if something is wrong. Mastering your emotions in step 2-4 will make it easy to take this constructive next step to move the conversation forward.

Emotions will inevitably arise during negotiations but instead of letting them happen to you or trying to overcome them, use them genuinely and strategically to get what you want and create value for everyone.