A Trick To Relax

A Trick To Relax

How do you avoid pressure in the face of a deadline?

Some people just don’t feel pressure at all, no how, no way. Those people live in the cemetery, and the dutiful among us visit them every so often and pay our respects.

The rest of us do feel pressure; the trick is controlling it.

Everybody has their own method of dealing with pressure, blowing off steam, and whatnot. When it comes to negotiating deadlines, one thing that works is visualization. Rather than visualizing total disaster—a usual mental image conjured up by the mere mention of the word deadline—focus on something else. You can think about your Plan B if you have to . . . or maybe the beer you’ll have at the end of the day.

Myself, I like to divert the pressure momentarily; it helps me refocus. Here’s what I mean. Throughout the day during particularly stressful negotiations we take breaks. Sometimes these breaks are called for by our subject, and sometimes by us. For the negotiating team, the breaks follow a regular pattern. First we do a roundtable; everyone on the team gets a chance to voice his or her opinion and suggestions, review what’s going on, etc.

With that done, I totally detach myself from the incident—and take the rest of the team with me. Maybe I tell a funny story about something odd or strange that happened to me or someone else there or just someone I know. It’s amazing to see the tension decrease when we get a moment to laugh about something not related to the situation.

The Funnel

Some negotiations involve only a few issues—and often just one, such as price. Others may involve a whole host of things. If you’re negotiating a commercial lease, for example, price per square foot is only one factor, and may not even be as important as included amenities, improvements, lease terms—you get the picture. In building its strategy before the negotiation, the team should have attempted to scout the entire field, identifying the many issues that would have to be negotiated. In deciding on its tactics, the team also should decide how “wide” to leave the field.

There’s a tendency for negotiations to narrow down into a funnel, leaving the harder points toward the end. Earlier, I mentioned how agreement at an early stage helps build rapport for the tougher spots toward the end. That’s the top part of the funnel. When the snags start coming—when you’re a thousand dollars apart on the car, or maybe a half dollar on the lease footage—that’s the funnel.

Negotiating the points in the funnel is, by definition, the toughest part of the deal. You give me this, I’ll give you that, helps some people reach an agreement. So some teams will either:

  1. Hold back a few “gimmes” during the earlier process as bargaining chips in the funnel, or

  2. Revisit some of the earlier points, bringing them up again.

I understand why people do this, but I have problems with both a and b.

Let’s deal with b first. If you start revisiting things, you’re inviting the other side to do so as well. That may not be fatal—and shouldn’t be—but it tends to undermine what you’ve done to that point, and at the very least it’s going to increase the negotiating period. (Of course, if you’ve made a mistake earlier, you do want to correct it.)

My disagreement with a is a little more subtle. Since my negotiations depend on rapport, I prefer to “bank” trust in the early stages. Psychologically, this gives me more leverage as we reach the narrow point of the process. But I admit, I’m very comfortable with being stubborn and saying no. Just as important, I point out what a great, easygoing guy I’ve been in the early stages, already agreeing to everything the other side wants. The funnel “gimmes” become chits on my side, even if they weren’t very important issues for me to begin with. The key to my strategy, of course, is my willingness to stick to my position and take the out if I have to. Personally, I don’t think that’s any easier if I have a small point to trade in exchange, but some people do. The key is to realize that you’re messing with tactics here—NOT your goals.