Dealing with Disappointment
Personally, one of the most frustrating things about negotiating is that sometimes it just doesn’t work out.
I can do everything that I think will positively influence the negotiation, that will create a valuable, beneficial exchange for both sides, and it just doesn’t work.
For me, “doesn’t work” means we don’t come to an agreement; I get less than what I was after and don’t have something to balance out my interests; or I finish the negotiation hoping I won’t have to work with the other person again.
I consider each of those situations as ones where it “didn’t work out” because I leave the negotiation feeling disappointed, exhausted and usually at least a little angry. It’s one thing to be frustrated by a negotiation but still excited about the project or thing you were negotiating about; it is quite another to finish a negotiation and resent the subject of the negotiation because of how things turned out.
I haven’t figured out how to make disappointing negotiations less frustrating, but I’ve been working on how to make them more productive. Because sulking is fun and all, but sometimes you want to do something different.
Here is my something different:
The First 24 Hours Are Free
Pretending you do not feel how you feel is dumb. It is dumb because it doesn’t help. You don’t get the benefits of catharsis, you lose the opportunity to learn why you feel the way you do, and, unless you are extremely good at pretending, everyone can tell you’re upset anyway.
So give yourself the first 24 hours after a disappointment to do, be and say whatever you need to.
If you feel pissed off, be pissed off. If you want to sulk and tell the tale of Woe is Me, do it. If you are angry and feel like punching something really hard, go to the gym and lay waste to the punching bag.
Really give yourself the freedom to naturally react to what just happened. The only limitation you have in these first 24 hours is that you don’t get to talk to the folks with whom you just negotiated, at least not about the negotiation. (This includes not talking about it on the internet!)
At some point during this 24 hour period, pull out a piece of paper and list the top 10 things that piss you off about what happened. Everything is fair game, and don’t worry about self-censoring. Just get it down on paper. The reason I suggest limiting it to the top 10 things that piss you off is to give yourself some structure. You’re going to come back to this in a few days and the structure will help you.
After the 24 hours? Well obviously you’ll still feel disappointed, but the Luke Skywalker business? It’s done, kaput, The End, etc. Time to make a better movie.
Back to the Beginning
Rather than maintaining your focus on the situation and how much it sucks, give yourself a break and focus on something that is all yours and makes you feel good: your goals.
What goal was this particular negotiation trying to help you achieve? Take that goal, dust it off, and see how it sits in this new situation.
Chances are there are ways of making the disappointing situation work for one or more of your goals. Likely it won’t be in the ways that you were hoping it would or that you wanted it to, but chances are the new situation isn’t totally useless. But if you keep focusing on how much the new situation sucks, you likely won’t be able to see how your goals can still be supported.
Switching focus to your goals, things that make you feel good, is a way of tricking your brain into using a more positive perspective. That doesn’t mean you’ll suddenly feel better about the disappointment. In fact, don’t shove those feelings away and ignore them; you just want to make a little room so that they can coexist with positive feelings about something you do like. If you’ve really given yourself 24 hours to be pissed off, you should be ready to take a break and look at something else for a while.
Once you’ve identified how this new situation can support your goals, write them out and keep them handy. Your disappointment isn’t going to disappear any time soon and it might very well get exacerbated; you want to be able to to refocus yourself when that happens and remember why you’re doing this. Having an accessible visual around that you can stare at while the tide of rage comes in will help make those times more manageable.
What the heck happened?
Now that you’re back on track to pay attention to what’s important (your goals), pull out that list of the top 10 things about this negotiation that pissed you off. Read it over, then ask yourself the following:
Are there any themes?
Most situations don’t self destruct because 14 random things happened inexplicably. More often negotiations go south because a particular problem or issue was ignored long enough that it had the time to turn into something that couldn’t be dealt with quickly or easily.
In reviewing your notes with a bit more distance, can you see any themes in what you’re frustrated by? If so, try to figure out what those themes are related to; a particular person? A particular issue in the negotiation? One of your interests? One of theirs?
Once the theme is identified, pretend you’re starting from square one again. With the benefit of hindsight, what could you have done differently during the negotiation to address that theme?
Then, more importantly, are any of the themes ones that could apply to other negotiations you might have? If so, is there anything you might do to mitigate against them? Barring that, is there anything that will help you better recognize when they are negatively impacting something you’re trying to accomplish? Yes? Write it down & use it.
Is there anything that might help improve this situation going forward?
In reviewing your notes, you might discover that every time you had to talk with Bob, things dissolved into fits and accusations. What does that tell you? DON’T WORK WITH BOB.
Which is great advice if you have the option to not work with Bob, but what if you don’t?
Well, first off, remind yourself when you’re getting frustrated with Bob that this happens and it’s just part of the process, but it’s not worth focusing all your energy on.
Next, figure out what influences Bob. Does he behave better when Selma’s in the room? Then make sure she’s at meetings you have with Bob. If he wants folks to know how hard he’s working, help him get recognition when he deserves it.
Did you make assumptions?
80% of the time I’m disappointed in how something turns out it’s because of the assumptions I made. Figuring out where those assumptions came from help me better understand who to trust, how to gather information and how to be aware of my own biases in a negotiation.
Do you need to yell at someone?
Sometimes you absolutely have to tell someone that what they did was unacceptable. Fear of confrontation be damned, you cannot let this person ever repeat their behavior. If that’s the case, talk to the person now, not later. Do it respectfully, but forcefully, and before they have the opportunity to repeat their mistake.
Leaving Things Better Than You Found Them
The goal through all of this is not to learn to get over being disappointed. Like all other emotional reactions, being disappointed in how something turns out can teach you a lot about the situation and help you avoid similar fates in the future.
To get to a place where you can learn from what happened, you have to have room to think about more than the fact that you’re hurt and angry. This approach to dealing with disappointment tries to help you make that room without having to excuse someone’s behavior or sing “Kumbayah” in rounds.
I am a big believer that every situation, no matter how frustrating or mundane, gives you the opportunity to learn something. By focusing on positive things that you control (your goals) and systematically reviewing what happened, you can increase the likelihood that you’ll walk away with your One Thing.