In February 2015, The Boston Controllers Leadership Council met for “High Stress Negotiations,” presented by Senior Hostage Negotiators from the FBI. We wanted to learn how to win negotiations when circumstances don’t allow for compromise; how to negotiate successfully in highly stressful and uncontrollable environments; and learning to deal with people whose thoughts and actions seem irrational and unpredictable.

According to our speaker “We can’t control human behavior – we can only control our behavior to influence a positive outcome. Negotiations isn’t rocket science, just simple things we do every day, and done with conscious thought.”

It all comes down to three simple things:

Start An Open Conversation

To kick off a contentious negotiation, the best step to take is to simply ask the person how they’re doing. Keep the tone of your voice calm and slow, which will subconsciously force the person you’re speaking with to calm down and match your tone.

Make sure to follow a few basic rules when opening up your dialogue:

  1. Only one person speaks at a time
  2. You must cooperate with each other
  3. Stopping and leaving the conversation must be done without offense

Most importantly, don’t lie – if the lie is spilled, empathy is lost and your negotiation is broken.

Master Active Listening

To get to a behavioral change, we have to first start with active listening. When emotions come in, rational thinking comes down and crisis starts. As negotiators, it’s important to try and get that rational thinking back up. This means that we must be patient and listen to their stories. Paraphrase the story that the person is telling you and reflect it back to them. By doing so, you demonstrate empathy and will begin to build rapport.

Further, when you’re conversing, don’t feel that you need to fill empty pauses in the conversation. Take advantage of the silence to collect your thoughts and process what you’ve just heard. If the conversation stalls, use open ended questions to continue the communication.

Burn Out Is Real – Pay Attention To It

There are thousands of negotiation scenarios that we as senior finance professionals face on a daily basis, some more intense than others. For those that are more complicated or have far-reaching ramifications, make sure that you’re working with a team who can support and help guide you.

A big thanks to Steering Committee members Julius Gloeckner, Controller, Keystone Strategy, and David Siewers, CFO, Selecta Biosciences, for their help in preparing this article!


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