How I Learned to Love Fear and Win Negotiation
Fear can be paralyzing. It can make us unable to think, speak, or even stand up. When we’re negotiating, fear can make us completely unable to represent ourselves or our work. It’s a powerhouse of an emotion that triggers our fight, flight, freeze, or surrender response. Any of which is completely appropriate when we’re physically threatened but totally inappropriate when we’re at the negotiation table.
Unfortunately, fear can be triggered by situations that are not physically threatening. When that happens, we experience things like:
- the fear of rejection
- that we don’t measure up
- that we’re not worthy
- that we don’t know enough
And the reactions can be physical in the extreme. I’ve experienced shortness of breath, churning stomach, and frozen legs. My feet frozen to the floor, my prepared and memorized remarks gone, feeling faint and hoping that someone will save me, yet completely unable to ask for help as I slowly sink into nothingness. Fear reigning supreme and all is lost.
Fortunately, there are ways to overcome our fears. And for me, chief among those ways is finding something to ask for. When I ask, I feel like I’m regaining control of the situation. When they reply, and they will reply, I gauge their response to not only my request but, more importantly, to me. So, asking gives me both a sense of control and a feel for how they view me. Asking and absorbing how they respond puts me on a strong footing for negotiating the next steps.
In these situations, I’ve asked:
- to have the meeting moved to a new location when the room was so flooded by sunlight that it was difficult to see.
- for a break in the conversation so I could confer with my team.
- for a power cord so we could show our presentation on the big screen.
- for more money than they’ve offered.
- for clarity on what the next steps are.
And of course, I always ask all kinds of questions about them, their company, and how the project at hand will help them.
I didn’t always ask these questions. I’ve learned there is a pivotal moment when the fear is rising within me. A moment I now react to automatically. But early on I had to grab the fear with a focused intent. Grab it, almost as though I could squeeze it in my fist. And very intentionally look for an opportunity to take control by asking for something. I’ve learned that if I don’t act in that pivotal moment, as I feel the fear coming on, I will lose control and all will be lost.
I now know that action increases confidence and that asking is a form of action. Action increases confidence even if the action does not produce the desired response. Action itself is a fear reducer. And the more actions you take, the more control you have over your fear and the situation that produced it.
Seeing the fear coming is the key. Seeing it, and knowing it’s normal. Knowing it’s a signal that action is required. Remembering that once you’ve grabbed it and taken control, you can do that again and again. And in some ways, fear can go from being a scary all-powerful enemy, to a friend. A friend who warns us so we can be safe.
How about you? Have you learned to turn fear into your ally? What works for you? Let’s chat in the comments.