Self-awareness and negotiation skills in business

By Melina Karaolina, M. ELIADES & PARTNERS LLC

John F. Kennedy said: “Let us never negotiate out of fear; but let us never fear to negotiate.” It is true that negotiations can be challenging in any given situation, but the fact of the matter is that all of us, every day, under many different circumstances, both in our personal lives and in business, have to negotiate. Studies show that children from as early as the age of 3 start to negotiate when they wish to engage in play with their peers.

When you negotiate in business, essentially you are negotiating for long-term benefit in business, and setting the foundations for solid and profitable business relationships. This is what effective negotiations should be about. The best way to get the most out of an agreement and a business relationship is to create win-win situations where working together in a collaborative manner leads to a constant discovery of creative solutions, synergies, and new sources of profit and value.

William Ury, one of the authors of the book, Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In, told a story in one of his talks about a man who bequeathed his three sons 17 camels. To the first son, he left half the camels; to the middle son, he left a third of the camels; and to the youngest son, he left a ninth of the camels.

The three sons entered into an intense negotiation over who should get how many, because 17 doesn’t divide by two, or by three, or by nine. Tempers became strained, so in desperation they consulted a wise, old woman. She listened to their problem and said, “Well, I don’t know if I can help you, but if you want, at least you can have my camel.” They then had 18 camels, so the first son took half of them (nine camels); the middle son took his third (six camels); and the youngest son took his ninth, or two camels. Nine plus six plus two adds up to a total of 17 camels. There was one camel left over, so the brothers gave it back to the woman.

The objective of effective negotiations is to discover that 18th camel – to find a creative way to mutual gain, instead of adopting an adversarial “what you lose, I win” mentality which usually leads to deadlocks. Striving for a more vigilant and analytical approach in negotiations can lead to novel ideas and opportunities.

Perhaps the most important tool in negotiation is to be self-aware. Our subconscious mind which rules much of what we do. In his famous book, Subliminal: How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior, Leonard Mlodinow, a theoretical physicist and mathematician, talks about the “social unconscious”, and how people essentially believe in facts that support their beliefs. We tend to favour things which support our preconceived beliefs. He makes reference to an interesting questionnaire where 25 percent of people believe themselves to be in the top one percent, 60 percent believe themselves in the top 10 percent, and 100 percent of people believe themselves to be at least average. He also talks about how much of communication is through nonverbal clues, and how the sound of one’s voice or a light touch during conversation can influence how a message is perceived.

Good negotiators are aware of how their body language can shape their interactions. In becoming self-aware you develop techniques by which you can observe yourself both physically and emotionally and adapt your reactions accordingly. Further, you can evaluate your beliefs and standpoints with critical thought, practise active listening, and adjust your positions based on the progress of the negotiations and your interests in the matter.

Alison Wood Brooks of Harvard Business School, in a 2015 article on negotiations and emotions, analysed how many different emotions could arise during negotiations, including (obviously) anxiety and anger, and she observed how “bringing anger to a negotiation is like throwing a bomb into the process”. There is great value in controlling the emotions we feel and especially those we reveal. We tend to spend a lot of time preparing our tactical and strategic moves before a negotiation without investing sufficiently in preparing our emotional approach.

Developing self-awareness and practising emotional preparation can sharpen your ability to negotiate and influence interactions during negotiations. This in turn will help you catch yourself and choose your reactions and responses wisely during negotiations. It will also help you deal with difficult people; as you may have to at times– such as the nature of many competitive negotiators and hard bargainers. Instead of getting caught in a hostile situation or aggravated atmosphere, you can take a step back to observe and diagnose the situation. Examine the motivation behind an aggravated attitude and identify any hidden interests that a party has failed to disclose. Although such circumstances can be challenging, being emotionally aware and prepared will help you hold your ground and negotiate effectively.

William Ury advises to “go to the balcony”: imagine you’re negotiating on a stage and part of your mind goes to a mental and emotional balcony, a place of calm, perspective, and self-control where you can stay focused on your interests and keep your eyes on the prize. It’s important to remind yourself of the purpose and outcome you wish to receive from the negotiations and re-orient yourself accordingly, despite the difficulties. If you are ambushed by strong emotions, you can also physically take a break from the process to allow for self-reflection time and enable you to lower your emotional temperature.

The human ability to control and regulate our brain is unique, including controlling our emotions and reactions. This is not a trivial ability, and science has shown how, through techniques such as regulating breathing, meditation and mindfulness, we can gain access to parts of our brain that are not normally under our conscious control. We really can “change our minds”. It is of course a constant learning process that will last through our lifetimes. Nevertheless, being committed to its practice can lead to greater emotional control, focus, and calm, while improving our overall performance, not just as negotiators in business but as human beings.


Melina Karaolia

Melina Karaolia

GGI member firm
M. ELIADES & PARTNERS LLC, Advocates - Tax & Business Consultants
Auditing & Accounting, Fiduciary & Estate Planning, Law Firm Services, Tax, Advisory
Nicosia, Cyprus
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M. Eliades & Partners LLC has a very clear and simple objective: to understand the needs of clients operating in the European and global environment, and to provide them with creative, timely and cost-effective legal and advisory services. The firm serves a broad base of clients principally from the EU, but also from the US, Russia, Asia and beyond, while maintaining worldwide professional relationships through its membership with GGI.

Melina Karaolia is a Partner at M. Eliades & Partners LLC. Her work encompasses a diverse range of corporate and litigation matters. She advises clients on a range of commercial, civil law issues and business law disputes. She is a member of Grays Inn London, the Cyprus Bar Association and the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators.


Published: Litigation & Dispute Resolution Newsletter, No. 17, Autumn 2022 l Photo: insta_photos - stock.adobe.com

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