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We negotiate with ourselves and with others every day of our lives. For the most part these negotiations are not emotionally charged, but they certainly can be.

When someone’s actions or lack thereof blocks access to something that is important to us, this can cause a strong emotional response. Think of your reaction when someone cuts you off while driving: instant, righteous anger.

While not always easy, it’s crucial that we pause and consider what’s causing our reactions and how best to deal with them. Always prepare before you negotiate.

Here are 4 simple steps to help you manage emotions in a high-stakes negotiation.

1)  Explore your own story to separate what happened—the facts—from what you made it mean. Look at the judgements, assumptions and interpretations you hold, and the emotions attached to them. Acknowledge those emotions but don’t let them control you and muddle the facts at hand.

2)  Put yourself in their shoes. Make a guess as to what they think happened and what they made it mean. Do your best to capture their story for facts, meaning and emotions. When you demonstrate you have reflected on what’s important to them, it enhances the likelihood that they will hear what you have to say without it triggering a negative emotional response.

3)  At the start of your negotiation share what you have done to prepare and why. Invite them to share with you what is most important to them. Use your preparation to reflect and affirm your understanding and acknowledge their emotional drivers. When you think they feel heard you can share your own story.

4) Be prepared to discuss the facts but avoid making it a debate about right and wrong. Acknowledge the facts that are in issue and seek to agree on a practical way to resolve those factual discrepancies. If negative emotions arise, take a break. Remember you want to shift the focus from the past and a debate about fault and blame to a dialogue about the future and the co-creation of a solution that meets all the party’s interests and needs.

If your negotiation is difficult enough you can get help from a conflict coach for your preparation and from a mediator to facilitate your negotiation process.

Your questions and comments are welcome and appreciated.

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David Gould (LLB, QC, C Med) has helped hundreds of lawyers and their clients – business and government organizations, and individuals – in conflict situations to co-create solutions for the future. For more information, contact: or visit

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