What is the right way to regulate your emotions in a negotiation when someone attacks you personally or throws you a negative curve? You know what is it like when you “lose it” in a negotiation. You flood your blood stream with various chemical and hormones. This is called flooding for a reason. What ticks us off with our children, spouses, siblings, parents, neighbors, co-workers, supervisors, employees, contractors, vendors, customers and other stakeholders in a “negotiation” can have a very significant impact. In some situations, we let ourselves go and we lose it. In other situations, we force ourselves to not let ourselves go on the outside, but on the inside, we are really feeling it. What should you do? Here are some insights.
A look at the brain
At the top of the brainstem is the amygdala. The amygdala is made up of two elements about the size of your thumbnail or a couple of almonds. This is sometimes called the primitive brain or reptilian brain. If you are being chased by a tiger you want the amygdala to kick in so that you fight, flight or freeze to protect yourself. In the modern world at home and at work you are typically not in such danger. However, you may feel threatened in a negotiation. So, what can you do to control the amygdala and not lose your cool? How can you de-escalate yourself or others?
The prefrontal cortex
That is where the prefrontal cortex comes in with a negotiation. This is lobe at the front of the brain. The prefrontal cortex is about 5% of the brain mass, but where 25% of the energy is taken by the brain. The prefrontal cortex is what overrides the amygdala and keeps you from losing your cool. So why is that sometimes we seem to not be able to control our anger and we burst out for example at our children, but not say with our boss?
Control and loss of control
With your children, you may feel the trigger coming with whatever it is, and you let it go. You are unconscious of this, but you actually made a decision to let it go. With your boss you reflected on the danger and your prefrontal cortex kicked in to indicate additional danger if you let yourself go. You look for food, water, sex, and shelter. Losing your job, the ability for promotion, your yearend bonus, having to do tasks you don’t want to do and having them assigned by your boss, and other downsize risk elements all entered your mind in a flash. With that you decided not to lose your cool at work. It was self-preservation. By why did you lose it with your children? It felt good to let it out. There was little downside risk at this time. However, when you consider the longer-term impacts, the role model you are providing, and the lesson being learned by your child, you may want to reconsider the ramifications. Perhaps it would be better not to lose your cool with them too. We are emotional beings and at times we lose it, but what can we do to reduce the number and to dampen the outbursts?
Some additional observations
Whether losing it with a child or reacting to a personal verbal assault in a negotiation, as far as the brain is concerned it is an attack requiring aggressive behavior from the amygdala. Some might suggest holding it in and not letting yourself become angry. When you suppress your emotions you also suppress cognitive thinking. This can actually make you angrier. You don’t want to suppress the anger. That is not healthy either. Here is another approach.
Sometimes you will become angry
Realize that some situations may make you angry. Think about these ahead of time whenever possible. Say with your child or with someone baiting you in a negotiation. Reappraise the situation ahead of time. In the scope of life is it worth losing your cool with your child over this situation? At work is it even necessary to let this situation let you become angry? Really think about this in the scope of your life. By thinking about this ahead of time, putting it in perspective, and role playing the situation ahead of time in your mind, you can take steps to not let the situation get to you.
Reappraising the situation and your attitude
Note this is not suppression, this is reappraising the situation. It’s like a challenge before you. You make a choice to view something negatively or to view it as a challenge or an opportunity. View the situation not as a threat, but as an opportunity. With your child you can realize you are there to help. Why is the child acting like this? Is he or she tired? Hungary? Looking for attention? Something else?
Practice and roll play
Think about who you can discuss this with ahead of time for next time and decide what might be an appropriate action before the next event. At work you can explore what might be the worst-case scenario with someone else attacking you, and think how you may respond. Take the same steps. Before a negotiation explore what may happen. Think about how you may respond.
You are an emotional being. You are not a robot. You will lose it occasionally. However, you can reduce how often this happens, and you can diminish how badly you will act with a few simple things.
Reappraise the situation ahead of time
Discuss this with others that can help you
Play it over in your mind- visualize it and how you will stay cool
Practice mindfulness (prayer, meditation, reflection) for at least 10 minutes day.
All of these things can help you. Keep in mind you make the decision to consider the situation as a threat or as a challenge and an opportunity. By thinking of the situation ahead of time (when you can) you can work with difficult people the right way and regulate your emotions in a trying situation and/or a negotiation.