• Breaking Barriers

4 Phases of a Mindful Negotiation

Negotiation is inherent in any human interaction. For as long as we live, we are bound to interact with others exchanging mutual needs. We all negotiate. That is a fact of life (Fisher & Ury, 2012).

The concept of mindfulness and the theory of negotiation have long been studied. This article looks at negotiation theory from a humanistic perspective, proposing that mindfulness can positively improve negotiation effectiveness.

Phase 1 - AWARE

The AWARE phase is characterised by the deployment of attention from an observer’s perspective. Using an ability to focus, listen, observe and reflect, a mindful negotiator is able to step back and clearly describe the environment, emotions and stimuli without being attached or judgemental, just aware of the way things are.

Reflection statements:

  • “She was very attentive to me. I was very present with her. I felt nervous in some times. I saw that she was getting distracted or started to get annoyed—rolling her eyes or cutting me short. But I noticed that she was noticing that and noticing that I was noticing her.”

  • “I felt upset—and many things drove me to this feeling; but the fact is that I knew that I was upset. I decided not to think about it now. Just accept the things for what they are.”

  • I think he saw my genuine reaction in my eyes… I was aware of my feelings at the time and gave myself the permission to carry on and continue on the same path.”

It is most important for effective negotiation to bring salient emotions and thoughts (existing in inner theatre) that might have triggered a reaction to the level of awareness and acknowledge them.

Reflection statements:

  • “…dealing with X reminded me of the good old days. I hear the voice of my dad reminding me to focus. I feel the touch of his hand taking me to the market and making strong statements on what it takes to be successful or not. I feel calm and at ease.”

  • “I could be angry with him. My ego is wounded. I could not. I feel for him. I feel sorry for him. I listened and listened. I feel for him, I told him that. Feel sad. Feel his sadness. I wanted to leave, I did not want to leave him. I wish I can help more… I took a walk—closed my eyes, this is not X—this is me stuck somewhere and needing help. I had a lot of hope, I would travel the world, I will run and fly high, no one listened or supported; people did not understand me, but now they do. They did not understand me but they were right, I did not see it this way. I am pleased with where I am, I really am. X will realise that one day. I will help him. I feel for him. I was there, I know what it feels—hope one day he will be in my place today.”

  • “X called a meeting. It is going to be ugly I thought. I feel sick in my stomach as I was heading for this meeting. I tried to avoid the meeting. He still wants to sit and sort it out…” [Then during the meeting] “I started to get fired up. The conversation was not about work anymore. It is getting uglier. I was getting more upset… I was becoming impatient and feeling tired of him and the whole situation. I know better, I always did better. I have the capability to behave better, but I did not. My mind was rushing to something else. I was thinking about X and his… background.”

Being aware does not only include emotions, thoughts, environment and situation, it encompasses being aware of our own character, abilities, strengths and weaknesses.

Reflection statements:

  • “...I can do it. If I have one strength that I can rely on, it is the ability to adapt to new environment. Speak up no worries.”

  • “X is an expert. Fantastic. I like working with him… He was happy to talk to me. I ask, he answers. I enjoy working with him. I learn a lot.”

At the end of this phase, and with this observer’s perspective, the negotiator can decide how or whether to act on any thoughts or emotions. This paves the way for the next phase.

Phase 2 - REGULATE

After experiencing the previous phase, one can naturally recognise the need to REGULATE raw emotions and thoughts. This regulation might take many forms.

Reflection statements:

  • “I took a conscious decision to touch a stone I put in my pocket every time my mind drifted outside this room… I had to touch the stone few times that day, but quite pleased with myself as towards the end I was touching it well before my mind found itself somewhere else.”

In other instances, a cognitive appraisal was needed to tackle distortions. Unregulated emotions led to unsuccessful negotiation outcomes.

Reflection statements:

  • “I want to storm out of this room. What will I look like if I do so? I feel like doing it. I am bored... is this going to last for a long time? Here I am, my emotions are getting hold of me. Go back, hey, wonderful opportunity. I know what these guys are up to. They are trying to wear us up. They want to learn.. So one contract and possibly two that is the extent of the relationship. Still I think we need to make a good impression. Listen to X. The guys know his stuff. The translator is interesting. I could turn this to a wonderful experience, one to talk about to everyone indeed. I will.”

  • “I felt betrayed. I felt frustrated. I did not want to stay anymore. I am not interested at all… Seriously, I am not interested to stay in this set up meeting anymore. I went out. I spoke to my wife. I was angry. She asked me to calm down. She asked me to stay focused and to benefit from the meeting. Play the game she said, you never know. I did not want to hear that. They are awful. I went back and started to be very sarcastic. I am not respecting them anymore, they don’t deserve my respect full stop.”

Many emotional intelligence attributes could also be viewed as a means of regulating or controlling reactions. Being assertive is crucial.

Reflection statements:

  • “It was the time for me to reciprocate and I did that. I visited every point he made. I offered my argument from my standpoint. I reiterated and gave examples. I wanted to keep the relationship. It was not personal. It was where I am at.”

  • “I should have known better. I did not like the investment to start with. I am not going to part with the money that easily. There is no need to be emotional about it. The solution was to be assertive earlier on, knowing what X’s point was, but I don’t think he understood where I am coming from. He kept pressing and I hated it.”

Among other attributes that can be listed under this phase are: distancing the self, exercising reflection, using anchors, developing impulse control and applying some reality testing.

Phase 3 - CONNECT

Arguably CONNECT includes the ability to connect inwardly and outwardly. The ability to connect inwardly was represented in Phase I. Therefore the outward connection is addressed in this phase.

In this phase, a negotiator tries to engage the other party. The common themes in this phase are: becoming interested and taking the time to understand the other party, initiating conversations, establishing communication, seeking to develop relationships, looking for opportunities to collaborate, exercising empathy, listening, suspending judgement and remaining calm and patient.

Reflection statements:

  • We broke up for lunch. I made the conscious decision to mingle with one of those investment bankers. In one hand, I was impressed with what they had to say so I wanted to learn more. But most importantly I felt that to gain ground I needed to take the discussion with those guys to a different level… I can certainly use my ability to engage with them in a way that will make our future conversation more personal and friendly.”

  • “I just could not trust this person from the moment I laid my eyes on him. The feeling was mutual. X always avoided looking at me in the eye. I think I was radiating some negative vibes or the look of mistrust was all over my face...” “The meeting took the whole day during which we went out for lunch. X and his team were not interested in engaging with me outside the meeting, save some lip service conversation.”

The intention to connect had to be genuine to be effective. After the CONNECT phase, a negotiator may feel the need to go back to REGULATE and then to AWARE before attempting to CONNECT again, or chose another order or proceed to the next phase, EVALUATE.

Phase 4 - EVALUATE

In this phase, the negotiator attempts to evaluate the opportunity, situation and context. A high degree of flexibility is needed as he/she remains open to new perspectives. The common themes are understanding different perspectives, questioning, enquiring, assessing, exploring alternatives and looking for and developing solutions.

Reflection statements:

  • “We spent the whole day going through our proposal and the various sections everyone has to cover and the various input that each has to give to the others for their respective sections. I was really impressed… mostly amazed by the experience of those guys.”

  • “I actually became interested in what she has to say, trying to understand her point of view. Out of ten points I can point out one or two issues that she was right on, so we adjusted our offering.”

  • “I booked my first flight to [location] with an aim to understand what the real issues are... I had a plan of my own. I scheduled a meeting with each one of them. I was keen to know the individuals and listened carefully to what they have to say. I scheduled meetings with other staff members as well to discuss the project.”

  • “Those guys are very impressive with the way they structured this deal. And the more I listen, the more I now realise that those guys... are waiting on questions; in other words, if our questions are clever enough we could know a lot of details about the real deal… so after engagement... I put a tick on all of the challenges (being addressed) except for the financing arrangement. This is an area that everyone believed should be left to the client to deal with… but why not I kept telling myself… Just hang on a minute, I told my boss. Look at this.”

  • “Going through the file was not pleasant at all. No doubt in anyone’s mind that I had a case. I came more prepared than the other team. I came across as more knowledgeable. I was forceful... I picked up on a few words that X said and responded with an example to prove he is wrong —I did that with plenty of sarcasm. He talked about being fair, I showed him a few examples that he has not been.”

  • Soon discovered that the guy whenever it suits him he is happy to follow the contract and whenever it is not, he is not. His answer: I know what you are trying to do, but you are not listening to me, this is what I am offering, take it or leave it—you can sue us if you don’t like it.”

  • X asked me few questions—I remember I did not answer them fully. He started to ignore me.”

  • My questions were not engaging. I asked some questions but was more interested in being seen asking questions. I was busy writing notes and in other times drawing.”

* This is an curated excerpt from Mindful Negotiations - A constructivist grounded theory approach proposing a conceptual framework linking mindfulness to negotiation effectiveness by Jamil Awaida

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