During a recent flight to North Carolina, I had a stopover at LaGuardia airport; so upon my arrival I decided to check and see if there was an earlier departure flight available. I approached an attendant and asked politely if there were any earlier flights departing to North Carolina, to which she responded, “It will be $75 dollars to change to a different flight.” No greeting, just straight to the point.
Surprised at the directness of her response, I began to pull out my credit card and responded, “Okay, what seats do you have available?”
Are you ready for her response? “There are no seats available on this flight, sir.”
Confused by her response, I proceeded to my gate to await the later flight and ponder what had just happened.
While waiting, I approached a different attendant out of curiosity, and asked if there were any seats available on an earlier flight to North Carolina. He checked, and said, “Yes sir, there are two.”
Having time on my hands and never one to step away from a challenge, I walked back to the original service attendant at the other gate and said, “You mentioned earlier there were no seats available on the North Carolina flight, but the other attendant just told me there were two.”
Her response was, “I can’t sell those to you, sir.”
Now I’m not going to bore you with the rest of the details here, but I continued to try for one of those remaining seats, to the point I waited by the door once the plane was boarded. No luck. What I found most interesting, however, was that each time I returned to the original attendant, she clearly became more agitated. Knowing this would decrease my chances of success, but having time on my hands, I continued to return to see how far I could take the discussions. Hey, I had nothing to lose!
The reality is, my negotiation was never going to result in any sort of satisfactory outcome because both the attendant and myself were now dealing with emotion and not logic. There was clearly some tone in her responses to me, and they worsened as our discussions continued. So what should you do when negotiations are not progressing as you intended, and the other person (and possibly you yourself) is becoming agitated? Here are three steps you can use to shift away from emotion when you sense this shift occurring:
1. Take a step back
When negotiations appear to be stagnant, and tensions are escalating, the first thing that you must do is stop and consider where you are in the discussions. Often we let our emotions guide us in these scenarios, but this is not the time to become cemented in your position. Consider the gaps between where you are and where your opponent is. Just pausing and considering your progress (or lack thereof) can diminish your emotions and provide both you and your opponent time to relax a little. Try using a statement such as, “You know, it seems like we aren’t really seeing eye to eye here, do you mind if I take a moment to consider what you are suggesting? I think there may be more value here than I am giving you credit for.”
2. Throw a curve ball
When I notice that tensions are rising during a negotiation, I try to inject some self-deprecating humor. Such humor provides a break from what is often a very tense discussion; reducing the stress of the moment. You must be careful that the type of humor you use, and your timing for its use, work in the discussion. Interrupting the other person, for example, will only serve to irritate him or her. Wait for a break in the discussion and say something like “You know, you have made a good point here, and I think I am letting my stubbornness get in the way of hearing what you are suggesting.” Humor always reduces tension and allows for a new perspective and renewed commitment from those involved.
3. Take a time-out
If nothing else seems to work, don’t be afraid to take a time-out. Again, timing is everything here, but if you use the right language, it isn’t difficult to find a moment to take a breath and re-group. Consider using phrases like, “Let me take a few moments to consider your points,” or, “Can we take a few moments to think about this? I don’t think we are getting anywhere and I want to be sure we can reach an agreement today that we will both be pleased with.” Now, you might be concerned about the other party becoming aggressive and seeing right through your time-out, but if they challenge you, that’s okay. You aren’t getting anywhere in your discussions anyway.
It’s natural for emotions to enter into a negotiation, but any time this happens it should be a huge red flag. Emotion leads to poor decisions and unnecessary compromises, in fact there has never been a negotiation where emotions were involved and both parties walked away happy. Now, you might think that as long as you are happy, that’s all that matters, but I guarantee that if your opponent isn’t happy he will find a way to even the score.