Wednesday, October 28, 2015

How I Learned to Love Fear and Win Negotiation

Read Time: 3 minutes

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.


  • First Ted, thank you for offing a forum for this kind of discussion. If it does nothing else, it names the “elephant in the room” and helps us realize that we all experience the emotional challenges of putting ourselves out there, be it as an artist, designer, consultant, etc.

    I’ve recently begun to adopt a more friendly approach when trying to calm the “scary monsters”. Instead of seeing them as enemies and something I have to defeat, kill, or otherwise eliminate from my persona, I’m inviting them to stick around for a while and get to know them. Look at them directly and with curiosity, and not try to avoid the unpleasantness.

    Now obviously one can’t do this when in the middle of a client meeting, but accepting the feelings as inevitable somehow gives them less power, and understanding my own “story” and self-doubts really helps when I’m in the heat of the moment.

    I have a New Yorker cartoon on my wall which is a great reminder. It shows a small diminutive girl sitting on a couch in her living room and right next to her is a big red, horned monster. She’s got a teapot in her hand and the caption reads “More tea?”.

  • Mister H says:

    I’ve always struggled with having to present as part of a big team. Having a part to play rather than being the lead doesn’t give me as much opportunity to ask questions and establish that dialog with the client, or take action—which I agree, seems to be critical. Once I hear myself and realize that I don’t sound like a big idiot, I start to settle down. Without that, I’m even nervous about how my team members will judge my performance, and my confidence plummets. Any remedy for that situation?

    • Hi Mister H, thanks for your question. I suggest that you require a rehearsal prior to the presentation. And during the rehearsal discussion, let your team members know that you will have a few questions you’ll need to ask the client during the presentation. Rehearsals are always awkward, embarrassing and often painful. But once you’ve rehearsed, no matter how horrible the rehearsal was, you’ll feel much better during the big show. It’s invaluable to have said in advance what you plan to say and heard what others will say. And you’ve had a chance to nail down the timing and who will do what when. Best of all, you’ll have gotten your window to ask a few questions. – Ted

  • Debbie Irwin says:

    I’ve left this post open on my computer since I read it so that I can be reminded of the lesson–
    To Ask is to Relieve– and hopefully get it ingrained in my consciousness.

    It’s slow going. 🙂

  • Sacha Simons says:

    You are right, instead of letting the fear eat you up, why not take an action. We need to do something about it, on how we will prevent it from overtaking us. We need to be in control. And the thing you said that instead of just sitting in the corner and do nothing, we need to talk to someone because it will help lessen our fears. I once had a fear of talking to the crowd because I am a shy type person, but I have learned how to overcome it because it is not doing any good to me. I must learn how to interact people because in that way, I know that I am making sense. top 10 writing services

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