While the term “business negotiations” often brings to mind the art of striking deals, negotiating is also a critical leadership skill for effectively managing day-to-day workplace interactions. When an urgent, time-sensitive situation requires members of an organization to drop everything, act quickly and bypass the usual protocols to achieve a desired result, leaders need expert crisis negotiation skills to gain the full cooperation of their team.
How do you encourage others to go above, beyond and outside the norm when you’re met with resistance or skepticism? Here are three ways to avoid conflict when negotiating extra support from your team in the workplace.
1. Keep Emotions Under Control
Feeling or looking anxious during a negotiation increases the likelihood of a poor outcome. Anger, in particular, “harms the process by escalating conflict, biasing perceptions, and making impasses more likely,” writes Harvard Business School faculty member Alison Wood Brooks. Displays of anger can also make a colleague or employee resentful and resistant to accepting the terms of a negotiation.
Whenever I’m negotiating with someone and I feel my emotions beginning to enter the conversation, I recite a mantra: “You are feeling emotions because you care a lot about this. If you care a lot about this, and you want it to go the right way, control your emotions.”
Sometimes, I’ll even describe my feelings to the person I’m speaking with: “You know, I’m getting emotional here, but that’s just because this is really important to me. I think if I can explain this properly, it will be important to you, too.” This mental safety hatch usually takes me out of confrontation mode and puts me back in solution mode.
The key is to be proactive, not reactive. Anticipating objections helps avoid frustrations that can cause emotions to escalate. Stepping back from a difficult conversation and trying to view a dispute more objectively can defuse anger.
In a crisis, it’s also vital to make any request for support as fair as possible. A request viewed as an unacceptable imposition may shift emotions the wrong way. In a study reported in Science, researchers used magnetic resonance imaging to identify brain activity when a person offered subjects an unfair share of money. Participants who received the offer showed activation of regions associated with negative emotions (anterior insula) and cognition (dorsolateral prefrontal cortex [DLPFC]). Researchers saw a greater activation of the anterior insula (negative emotions) than the DLPFC (cognition) when the subject rejected the unfair offer.
When our brain is weighing an important decision, our default mode tends to allow emotion to trump logic. Being aware of this bias is advantageous for leaders when soliciting the cooperation of others during crisis situations, because emotions may override logic when an offer or a request for help is deemed unfair. It’s important to stay focused on the facts, which are emotionally neutral. In addition, by acknowledging the value that people bring to the cause, negotiators can also alleviate the negative emotions that can thwart the process.
2. Show That Helping Is a Win-win
When leaders present a request for assistance as an opportunity to do something that benefits all parties, it establishes a positive atmosphere of alliance where everyone involved becomes united in a common cause. Communicating to others that their contribution is vital for success will help focus their mindset on addressing the urgent need instead of on adhering to standard procedures. Then, when there’s a favorable outcome, the whole team shares the positive feelings of victory.
Just convincing someone to start helping can result in a cascade effect that makes them want to help even more. Helping behavior triggers release of oxytocin, which tends to elevate mood and counteract the effects of the stress hormone cortisol. It also increases the secretion of the “feel good” hormones serotonin and dopamine. Imagine how good it will feel for everyone who agrees to help when a mutually beneficial outcome occurs. It’s about enrolling them into your plan rather than convincing them of your plan.
3. Adjust the Negotiating Stance to Match the Person
One size does not fit all in crisis negotiations, so your tone and the amount of information you provide should differ according to the level and function of the person you’re addressing. Share with superiors the considerations you took into account, and help subordinates understand how you will take responsibility for going off protocol. To ensure employee buy-in and cooperation, assure them that bending the rules in pursuit of your common goal will not get them into trouble.
Translating the crisis situation into terms that hit a colleague or employee on a personal level can also expedite cooperation by gaining their understanding and empathy. Regardless of where someone is in relation to you, everyone must be afforded appropriate respect and consideration.
Crisis negotiations aren’t exclusive to high-stakes circumstances like hostage situations or emergency operating rooms — they can occur in everyday workplace interactions as leaders negotiate the support of their employees and colleagues to achieve business results. By practicing the key elements of crisis negotiation — managing your emotions, thinking collaboratively and adjusting your communication to your organization’s pecking order — you can inspire greater human performance not only in those you lead but in yourself as well.