Monday, April 27, 2009

Negotiate in Your Zen Space

Practitioners of the Zen philosophy have something to teach those of us who are not, something that is helpful to the process of negotiation.

The most difficult part of negotiation for most people is keeping your cool in the face of the pressure to succeed, the pressure tactics used by others, resulting anger, and often the knowledge that a negotiation table is not a familiar place. Finding your Zen space can help enormously and, with reasonable practice, this can come naturally.

Practice in advance getting into Your Zen Space. You will be seeking awareness stripped of those obscuring layers imposed by mindless thoughts, self-referent attachments and dogmas. You will be seeking to view reality, as it is, a "mindful" state.

At first, use a quiet room, away from distractions, with neutral decorations. Get some non-disturbing music playing, whatever relaxes you. Sit in a comfortable chair. Close your eyes. Take three deep breaths, focusing your thoughts on your inhales and exhales. Review your thoughts and then discard them. Focus only on what it feels, sounds and looks like in this state. Imagine yourself watching yourself from outside.

This state is not sleep, but neither is it the hyper-alert, stirring state of mind when we are awake.

Practice this process often, in conditions that increasingly less isolated, so you can eventually get here wherever you are. You have found your Zen space, where you can think and interact without interference from your fears, biases and presuppositions.


  1. I don't understand how being detached and playing it cool can help when I have to negotiate. Don't I have to be "up" and energetic so that I'm ready for whatever the other side tries to do? If they are going to try to pressure me, it seems logical that I should be ready for battle.

  2. This is a good question, I think quite typical of how people approach negotiation, especially after seeing TV and movies about it. The problem is that humans have two brains, or at least a brain with many parts, two of which have to do with reasoning. One of them—much older in evolution—deals with fight or flight. It is very rapid but not very nuanced. It makes mistakes, as we all know from times when we are angry, fearful, vengeful or have other strong emotions. This 'reflexive' brain is not good for negotiating, but it is the part that dominates (the 'default' in computer-speak)

    The other part, much newer in evolution, is 'reflective,' and is what you want to use in negotiating. You need to be able to analyze proposals—theirs and yours—to predict their results short and long term for your side. You need to reflect on that.

    Zen practitioners have known intuitively for hundreds of years about reflexive and reflective brains, even without fancy brain imaging technology. I described using their ideas to get into a state I called "Your Zen Space' where you are using your reflexive brain.

    Having high energy and being "up" sounds like being ready to fight the other side or flee from them, rather than being ready to calmly cope with whatever they say. They may try to provoke or they may have a useful idea. Whatever it is, a negotiation is not a "battle," at least not for the successful negotiator of sustainable deals.

    Again, thank you for the thought-provoking question.