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

When someone’s actions or lack thereof blocks our access to something that is important to us, this can cause a strong emotional response. While not always easy, it is crucial that we pause and consider what’s causing our reaction and how best to deal with it.

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

1)     Prepare before you negotiate

Begin by taking a blank page and drawing a line down the middle. Write on the left at the top “What happened? “. On the right at the top write “What did I make that mean?” This is about separating what happened which are just the cold hard facts, from the meanings you bring to those facts. It’s in those meanings and your emotional response to them that conflict grows.

2)     “Seek First to Understand”

Demonstrate they have been heard and that you have reflected on their position. This enhances the likelihood that they will hear what you have to say without it triggering a negative emotional response. Ask them to clarify with you what’s most important to them and why. Then, share some of the insights you gained about your own interests.

3)     Shift from debate to dialogue.

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 and hopefully low-cost way to resolve those factual issues. If they are triggered and go to fault and blame or to positional bargaining, take a break.

4)     Don’t be afraid to use lawyers to your advantage.

Lawyers are expensive but if your potential conflict has legal complexities and significant money at stake, they can be critical. It can take years and hundreds of thousands of dollars to fight a legal battle all the way through the courts. Retain a lawyer who will help you navigate both a litigation track and a settlement track.

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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