Taking a step back from a contentious negotiation and trying to change your focus and perspective can help take the temperature down a notch or two, advised Nancy Cramer, founder of Correct Course Consulting, while speaking to attendees at Northstar Meetings Group's Destination Texas event today. Cramer, a master practitioner of neuro-linguistic programming, trains leaders and their teams to manage their emotions.
"It doesn't take long to change our perspective and adjust the emotions," she told those gathered at the Driskill Hotel, a Hyatt Unbound property in Austin. The event, which wraps up today, brought together 39 meeting planners and representatives from 35 suppliers, such as the Fairmont Austin, the Boerne Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Hilton Waco, the Royal Sonesta Hotel Houston and the South Padre Island CVB.
Cramer referred to three "levers" -- focus, meaning and perspective -- that can each be adjusted to keep a situation calm.
• Focus: When emotions get out of control, often one of the parties is looking too narrowly at an issue, and perhaps the other is seeing it too broadly. "There is a tendency for men to have a narrower focus and women to have a broader focus," Cramer explained, harking back to historical human development and hunter/gatherer instincts.
Check yourself, she said. Determine what it is you're focused on, and what you might be missing. And when you're not in the heat of the moment, practice changing your focus. "Like a camera, sometimes we have to change lenses," Cramer advised.
• Meaning: "When we assign an identity to someone, we will always see them as that," said Cramer. "If you're in a negotiation and you decide the other person is a jerk, you have put them in a box and taken away their emotional flexibility." When things get heated, switch out the words you are using in your head to describe your counterpart to help change them from an adversary into a collaborator.
We also assign meaning to the situation we're in, such as when a planner is expecting a certain concession that the supplier can't give, and the planner decides the event itself couldn't possibly work without the concession. Stepping back and changing the words you use around the sticking point can help you get past it.
• Perspective: Visualization helps here. Take the perspective of someone else, of the person you're dealing with or a third party to the situation. Put yourself in each of the perspectives to test your own understanding of the overall picture.
Can you do all of this in the heat of the moment? "The more you practice centering exercises, bringing your mind to a central point, the faster you can do it," Cramer said. "And the more you'll have the capability to change the levers very rapidly. Knowing whether you are focused too narrowly or broadly, what meaning you have assigned the situation, whether you can step back and see the other perspective, can take place in a minute or two. And accepting what you can't change is a way to assign a new meaning."
Advice also came from the crowd, drawing on their expertise in negotiations:
- Change the environment you are in. Breaking the ice, giving everyone in the room a Hershey's Kiss or starting a phone conversation with get-to-know-you questions all serve to begin the process calmly.
- Bring in someone else to add a new perspective -- be it a supervisor, a boss, a fellow planner or another salesperson who will help everyone see the process in a different way. "When you have a diverse team going into the negotiation you can see the situation from another perspective," said Cramer.
- Often in negotiations we are not using the other person's terms. Sometimes we need to use their exact words to smooth understanding across the board. People are very attached to their words, however, and sometimes we need to gently correct them.
Final words of advice from Cramer: "No matter how much things are being ripped up around you, be the calm in the center. Carry it with you. Take this into your workday and keep it inside you, and you, too, will be able to have emotional flexibility."