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Want to Negotiate Better? Kick Fear Out of the Driver's Seat

Have you ever thought about what motivates you? For many, fear is a powerful force—and it’s almost never good. Consider this description of fear from Walter White in the second season of Breaking Bad.

“I have spent my whole life scared. Frightened of things that could happen, might happen, might not happen. Fifty years I spent like that. Finding myself awake at 3 in the morning. But you know what? Ever since my diagnosis, I sleep just fine. And I came to realize it’s that fear that’s the worst of it. That’s the real enemy. …”

Of course, fear is never quite so simple. Fear causes us to hold onto false narratives about people we don’t know or understand. Our fear holds us back from taking meaningful and life-changing action. And if we’re guilty of unsavory behavior, fear may also cast a harsh light on who we really are.

You’re missing out

Fear is powerful. It moves us to act or compels us to take a seat. How will fear impact your choices and actions today?

Everyone has fears. And whether you’re afraid of encountering a snake or delivering a speech, your apprehensions have held you back.

Fear prevents you from living a fulfilling life. Whether being afraid keeps you from participating in an activity with friends, applying for a job you want, or even negotiating the salary you deserve, the outcome is always the same: you get less than you deserve.

About a third of all women say they’re uncomfortable negotiating their salary, compared to just 23% of men. Why? Because they’re afraid.

Fear literally robs us of reaching our fullest potential. And if we aren’t careful, fear will prevent us from being effective negotiators.

Fear of negotiation

What’s really behind the fear of bargaining? In terms of negotiating a salary, we usually are afraid because we fear judgment or hearing the word no.

The fear of no is something I talk to my students about often. Because not only is this fear quite common, it cripples negotiations.

When we bargain, we don’t want to hear no. But we’re also scared of judgment, rejection, being discredited, or not being taken seriously.

When fear is in the driver’s seat, there’s a lot of negative self-talk in the moments leading up to and during a negotiation. Do they like me? Do they think I’m a fraud? Do they think I’m unworthy?

Fear, when left unchecked, is destructive. Like cancer, fear spreads from something small—fearing the word no—to questioning the core of your being.

But you don’t have to let it take you that far. There’s usually a reasonable explanation for getting a no. And even if there isn’t, hearing no can give you important details you can use in the future.

Look beyond no

Instead, shift your perspective to see no as a source of information in your conversation. What other signals can you get from that no? Maybe you are close to a deal, but need to make a few minor adjustments. Maybe you need to shift further and come to a brand new agreement. Either way, the no likely doesn’t mean not ever, just not this way.

All too often, we allow our explanation for the no to take up so much space in our brains that we can’t absorb, understand, and respond to the full scope of the negotiation happening before us.

Sometimes, the answer is simply no, and you need to accept that. But by not exploring the no, you do yourself a great disservice.

You may even try to prevent no from happening before bargaining even begins, just to avoid the process. Before they even have a chance to respond you interject with, “If it doesn’t work for you, I understand,” or “This is, of course, negotiable.” Why?

Because you’re looking for an out from having to confront one of your biggest fears: the word no. And as convenient as avoiding negotiation may feel in the short term, I can almost guarantee you’re cheating yourself in the long term.

Conquering fear

It’s okay to be afraid of negotiation. In fact, most people are to some degree. What really matters is how you respond to the fear. Do you let fear hold you back, silence your voice, or negatively affect outcomes? Or do you fight through the fear, silencing your negative narrative so you can find your authentic voice and use it?

Conquering fear starts with understanding your value. If you have confidence in who you are and what you’re bringing to the table, there’s nothing to fear.

I know this is far easier said than done, and like any important skill, this one requires nurturing. Prepare for negotiations by identifying the value of what you’re offering. Think about your counterpart’s perspective and what arguments will resonate with them.

Do consider their counterarguments, but don’t let them determine your tactics. Frame your approach based on their perspective, not what you predict their objections may be. Instead, come from a place of confidence and think of ways to use counter arguments as leverage.

Fear clouds our perspective, preventing us from seeing opportunities and outcomes for what they are: chances to create transformative change. But unlike the actual weather forecast, you have the power to make the sky clear and bright. Eradicate fear to eliminate the haze of hesitation when you negotiate.

Choose to Bring Yourself and leave fear at the door.


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