10 JULY, 2016

Habits: Friend and Foe

The 7 Habits of Highly Defective People from 

In this blog, I will talk about different strategies and behaviours you can adopt to do better in negotiations. One of the fundamental challenges you will face in these experiments is your negotiation habits.

For good and ill, habits often drive negotiation behaviour. Negotiations, once started, are intense affairs. You have to pay attention to what the other is saying. You have to think of questions you need to ask. You need to keep track of their body language and of course, your own emotions may move up and down depending on your perceptions of how the negotiation is going or how the other is treating you.

This list of tasks, which is incomplete, can already be overwhelming (especially in a multiparty negotiation). So, we tend to develop routine behaviours and assumptions that help us to reduce the number of things we have to plan.

Habits make life easier… and they can also lead you into traps. In negotiation, it is easy to follow habits because there’s so much going on, it’s hard to pay attention to what we are feeling and how we are acting.

Most, luckily, just lead you to so-so outcomes in your negotiations. Unfortunately, others can produce much worse outcomes, including relationships and misunderstandings that can get worse, violence, and all those other things that we find all over the world when people are unable to decide how to co-exist.

So, if you don’t want habits to drive your behaviour, what can you do? The first step is to recognize them.

Let me start the conversation rolling. The first thing that I believe you need to do is to become more self-aware of your own habits in thought, emotion, and behaviour. That means that you have to accept that you are not in control much of the time. Instead, your habits, and mine, govern our behaviour in many situations.

Many of our habits are deeply embedded in our bodies and brains. Sometimes these habits become part of our bodies right from the beginning and sometimes they are developed over time and through experience. Either way, unless you learn what they are and how to stop them from driving your behaviour, they can control you. Think of all those angry and crazy drivers out there. How many would be embarrassed if they acted in the same way when someone accidentally cuts across their path while they walk through a crowded party?

Let’s look at this a bit more deeply by using an insight I received from Jonathan Marshall. Imagine that our brains are split into two parts. One part is new to the human race and it is the centre for most of our “civilized” behaviour. The other part is the part humans started with and is mainly concerned with our immediate survival. So, when we are threatened or stressed, it is this older, more primitive section of our brain that first reacts and it only has four, basic reactions: flee, fight, freeze, and fornicate.

So, how does this apply to negotiations? Well, think for a moment about an old family member, colleague, or even friend who you often get angry at or frustrated with. Now ask yourself, what is it that they are doing that makes you angry or frustrated? Is it often the same thing – e.g. not listening to you, saying certain things about you, leaving the dishes undone, or something else like that? And each time that this happens, do you react in the same way? How many times have you stopped to really try to understand your behaviour, your relationship with the other party, and how you can change it? Or do you just react by smiling politely and trying to forget the moment or saying something angry that starts a fight?

The worst aspect of habits is that other negotiators can use them to manipulate you. Some use artificial time deadlines or an uncomfortable setting to make you hurry your decisions. Others might try to make you angry or uncertain to muddy your thinking.

I said the first step to managing your habits was recognizing them. The best way to do that is to start paying attention to your emotions, attitudes, and behaviours in low risk negotiations and even everyday conversations. As you get more comfortable with this “mindfulness,” you will be more prepared to apply it to your more difficult negotiations, and then choose which habits you want to change or keep.