Imagine: You arrive to work ready for the worst situation possible, and again, your expectations are exceeded. Your workers come to you with a complaint: Work will not be done under these unbearable conditions – standards must be raised. 

Meanwhile, your bottom line is not being met. You set a meeting with your manager to talk about possible solutions, but there is pressure from the top to raise sales and drive profits. You are locked between a rock and a hard place. 

It's up to you to find middle ground in the midst of these turbulent waters and negotiations are about to begin.

Across the Table Video

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Stress and pressure are known to have strong and lasting effects on people in business. From union workers to corporate executives, these tensions can inspire hard work, but they can also raise internal conflicts between people within the same organization. Being able to implement proper techniques for handling stress in light of difficult situations can lead to higher performance, and ultimately, increase the likelihood of success.

How you would coach someone to prepare for a difficult meeting with their supervisor? With their staff? With their peer? 

Consider these four steps to assist in developing a productive strategy for handling difficult conversations.

  • Define your role and your goal. It is important to fully understand your objective in order to craft an appropriate negotiation strategy. Is there a situation at work that is preventing you from excelling to your fullest potential? Are you trying to secure a promotion? What are your priorities, and what are you willing to compromise on?

  • Understand your value. What unique skills do you add to the team? How would the company function in light of your absence? And what would it cost the company in time, money, and energy, to replace you? Avoid thinking of these factors in a threatening light with a potential downfall to the company. Instead, consider your contributions in a positive manner: If you are already doing so much, imagine how much further you could reach with additional resources, or minimized setbacks.

  • Understand your counterpart’s vantage point. Who are you negotiating with and where are they coming from? It is important to recognize and appreciate their point of view. Does your counterpart fully understand the importance of the job that you? How can you assist them in understanding the true value of your contributions? You should also be sure to note any unspoken hierarchy present or other factors to be aware of that could affect the negotiation dynamic. 

  • Check in with yourself. Stress and anxiety, like any emotions, may affect your ability to calmly and rationally advocate for your position. Before commencing any negotiation, try to calm down and channel those stresses into energy to inspire your passion for success.

Negotiation success can depend on many factors, but through proper preparation and a focus on gaining the trust of your counterpart, you can open the door to value creation before the negotiation has even begun.

To further unpack how self-awareness and emotional intelligence are leading factors in negotiation, and to master these skills through practice, collaboration, and reflection, learn more about Negotiation Mastery.

Negotation Mastery -- Earn your seat at the negotation table.  Learn more!

Alexandra Spiliakos

About the Author

Alexandra is a member of the Harvard Business School Online Course Delivery Team, currently working on the Sustainable Business Strategy, Economics for Managers, Disruptive Strategy, and Negotiation Mastery courses. Alexandra holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Wellesley College where she studied Economics and Anthropology. In her spare time, Alexandra enjoys exploring her passions for language, dance, and expanding her understanding of intercultural connectivity.