on Negotiation

Have you ever been in a position where you needed to negotiate? This could be a proper negotiation event or could be a casual discussion where you are arguing with a friend. Every interaction with another human could be called a negotiation of sorts, as you are making tradeoffs according to your communication.

How to negotiate—especially in the more formal sense—is a fairly well documented topic. It is an influential topic because it may greatly impact your career and life in a multitude of ways. Most people like winning arguments and hate losing arguments. Being a good negotiator is supposed to help you with gaining more of the former and avoiding more of the latter.

This is not a guide to negotiation. I am not an expert in any capacity.

But I have been involved in a few different negotiations recently. Let’s consider these primarily to be more proper negotiations with two parties (at least) trying to get something settled. Some have been fairly hefty with lots of parties involved and others have been extremely acute (one-off argument with one individual). The details of the negotiations are not particularly important to share. What is relevant (or at least what I am deciding is relevant), though, is just how much I have learned from these experiences.

There is a wide array of big and small anecdotes—but the category I have been most consumed by is learning how emotions intertwine with success (or failure) in negotiation. A part of me, perhaps in the past, would think these observations would be quite obvious. And perhaps they are. But another part of me would tell you that it is one thing to understand, perhaps cognitively, the *right* approach to negotiation. Another piece of me would say that you have to *feel it* to truly get it. Words only get you so far. Logic only gets you so far. It is the feeling of winning or losing a negotiation that your brain can really wrap itself onto and etch into sufficiently strongly into your memory for a very long time such that you can recall it in the future with ease.

Now, in the negotiations I have been apart of (and there have been many), I would not say I have come out as the *clear loser*. Certainly not in the aggregate, and even if you judge each particular “transaction” of sorts, I would not say I am out here losing things left and right. I am not really that concerned with the outcomes, though important, as I am compared to the micro interactions. The inputs.

I generally bias towards inputs as a focus area (rather than outputs) because they feel more controllable and the feedback loops seem to be tighter (closer to causality).

And the inputs I am focusing on is in understanding how your emotions show up to the negotiation. Perhaps more specifically, a pretty easy to witness once you start looking for it observation I have begun to make is recognizing whether or not someone is wearing their emotional sunglasses or not. Because, if their emotional wall is up, and they truly cannot hear the logic, you need to make an important decision: are you going to entertain the emotional appeal?

You probably have been in situations like this before. Where you are trying to focus on the logic, but the other person is coming in heavy handed with lots of human emotions.

These are not real anecdotes of my own but you could imagine people saying things like this to you:

“You make me feel this way.”

“You need to do this because everyone else is mad”


These are emotional appeals and your choice is rather simple—do you give in?

My experience is that most people give in. They get too uncomfortable. They get insecure. They do not have that much conviction in their own ideas. The Golden Rule gets louder. And they give in. They allow the emotional appeal to trump logic. The virus of emotionally clouded decisions trumps rationality.

I have even sometimes give in. I try to wonder why I do. I try to fight for the truth and for logic to win out, especially in the business context where there are many downstream implications to making decisions that do not prioritize the business outcomes.

And the answer as to why I, or perhaps anyone, gets persuaded by the emotional appeal approach is fairly obvious: because I am scared. Fear drives many decisions. If I were to look back on ~all the bad decisions (defined as decisions that were ineffective) over the past few years, I would answer that the far majority of them came from situations where I was entering a situation from a place of fear (rather than strength and confidence).

Leading from a place of fear is a dangerous spiral. It puts you on your back foot. It makes it harder to be proactive. It makes it harder to really show up and be authentic in every conversation.

Now, lots of people have a bit of a chip on their shoulder, a bit of anxiety and pressure. Many successful people maintain this trait, even after they have become successful by whatever standard you choose to measure it at. Some say that this chip on your shoulder mentality is actually a requirement for success—that those who do feel any neuroticism or anxiety will just act complacently. I am not sure if I buy that—though I do know that I enjoy working with people who care, A LOT. But caring a lot is not an excuse for making bad decisions. And if we define bad decisions as ineffective towards achieving outcomes. And we believe that making decisions that incorrectly prioritize objectives are likely to be bad decisions. Then I think we can say that we CANNOT allow fear to influence the _how_ we make decisions.

Because if we do, and if we do give in, then we may enter a spiral.

The spiral in this case is one similar to (the expression of) negotiating with terrorists. In this case, we are dealing with emotional appeals. And as soon as we start to allow them into our culture (can be defined on a societal and/or individual level), the flood gates are then at risk of opening.

There is probably a name for this but will try describing via sentences—once you allow one emotional appeal to break into your city, you can expect many others to line up outside the walls and try to break inside in the near future.

If your organization sees a leader who is willing to entertain emotional appeals, then you will start to see other people come to the table with emotional appeals. They will conform to whatever methods appear to be most effective.

So if you are in a negotiation with someone, and they are asking you for something, the question I ask you, especially when you are facing an emotional appeal, is DO YOU HAVE THE COURAGE to be patient?

The courage to be patient is simple yet hard.

When you are in a conversation, do you have to respond immediately? When you hear the emotional appeal, does that trigger your own emotional appeal?

Have you ever been part of a shouting match? WHERE YOU HAVE TO YELL TO KEEP UP?

How do you feel after one of those is over? Good about yourself?

Most people do not. I do not. I rarely shout, but even mentally shouting at someone is an extremely draining experience. An experience that in my book is generally highly regrettable and in fact avoidable if you just do one thing. A hard, mature thing. But just one thing.

Which is just wait.

Be patient. There is no need to get triggered (that is a figment of your imagination).

The person I admire in the negotiation is the person who keeps their cool most of the time and raises the intensity where appropriate. I believe this approach is most likely to win. Beyond that, it is least likely to be highly regrettable.

I am generally not all too concerned with one particular negotiation. What I do think about, though, is the series of negotiations that happen as you COORDINATE with other human beings.

If you are building an organization, like a technology startup, you should realize that you will be negotiating all the time. With investors. With customers. With partners. With internal teammates. With yourself.

The question for you—to perhaps even start with—is how do you want to show up to the table?

Negotiation is a skill. Emotional management is a skill. I think they go hand in hand, and generally speaking scale alongside your awareness and maturity.

Investing in understanding how you show up can separate you from the Average Joe who has yet to really look in the mirror. Without seeing yourself clearly, it is really hard to improve and make adjustments. It is not about what intercept you start at, but rather your slope. So if you can keep improving throughout your life you will find yourself with a compounding advantage (to nearly everything you decide to focus on).

The area that I think I have become massively more aware of in the past few months is on the topic of how you bring emotions to a conversations. The lesson I have learned, and really reinforced to myself over a series of essays, is that emotions can get in the way of clear thinking. And if you are like me, and you believe in clear thinking as ~important to great decision making, then you may have an interest in scaling this skill of emotional management.

This is not saying to not have emotions. This is not saying to be a robot. This is not saying to not be yourself. This is not saying to be so zen that you are just like water and emotions cannot impact you. This is not to say you need to restrict of control your emotions.

All it is saying is that being aware of the equation can help you figure out the drivers and make better decisions.

I have looked at this at many levels. I am embarrassed by some of my approaches from months and years prior, where I was let’s say less aware than I am today. I hope this learning trend continues, because I know I am very much on a journey that is evolving.

Just as individuals can be emotional, organizations can be too. Coordination is an extremely complicated effort. You would think having more people produces more high quality work but this relationship is very rarely (if ever) the case. Why? How is this possible?

You will often hear people tell you the reason is because humans have emotions. This is not a fair answer.

The reason is because humans, at least some and you could say most humans so far, are not particularly good at MANAGING their emotions. And that leads to inefficiencies.

Many people jump to managerial positions where they spend all this time trying to manage others (and subsequently their emotions) BEFORE HAVING FIGURED OUT THEIR OWN SHIT.

I advise you invest in the latter before doing the former. Too many people make the mistake of jumping to the latter, for whatever reasons, and making lots of mistakes. These mistakes are generally representative of the fear gap mentioned earlier. Where fear leads people to overcompensate in particular areas. Overcompensation is inefficient. Thus, organizations become inefficient.

All of the above is to say, again, that awareness is the objective. And that I am aware that in negotiating with me—if you want to “beat” me, I will not be entertained in the slightest by emotional appeals.