I was in a situation recently where a longtime client repeatedly didn’t hold up their end of the bargain and often put me in an uncomfortable position. I nearly sent an angry email to abruptly cancel my contract. I was ready to walk away without looking back. I imagined myself saying, “And I expect to be fully compensated for my time!”
If you’re feeling frustrated, undervalued or angry with your negotiation partner, here’s how to salvage — and perhaps even strengthen — your relationship.
1. Notice how you’re feeling and pause before you take any action.
This can be challenging, but it’s well worth the effort since mindfulness can help make you better at regulating your emotions. I’ve had a lot of practice because I’ve been trained in meditation as a certified yoga teacher. If that’s not your background, a great place to start is Headspace, a meditation app that eases you into the habit of mindfulness in 10 minutes per day.
2. Know what issues are at stake and know your top priorities.
Do this once you’ve had some time to calm down and reflect. Get clear on what matters to you — and why. Letting someone know that you’re angry may be tempting, but consider the bigger picture. Is there a reason why it’s worth saving this relationship? If you’re so fed up that you can’t think of anything, ask yourself a different question: what will happen if I act on my feelings? How will they react, and what will that mean for me?
3. Put yourself in their shoes.
Try asking a trusted colleague or friend to help you with this if you can’t get there on your own. Some questions to consider: Who do they answer to? What pressures are they under? What are they secretly wishing for? You may not have perfect answers to these things, but developing some sense of empathy for their position can help you decide how to approach your discussion.
4. Make a game plan.
Don’t wing it. Going in to a sensitive discussion without a plan is a not recipe for success. It doesn’t have to be elaborate. Think through how you’d like to open the discussion, recommit to your top priorities, and brainstorm how you might overcome any objections or problems that arise. Remind yourself of why you’re having this conversation and what you hope it will achieve.
5. Be an active listener.
Have you ever noticed that while the other person is talking, you’re busy formulating a counter argument? Challenge yourself to be fully present when the other person is speaking. Take some notes if that helps you focus. Listening to and observing your counterpart’s words and body language can give you insights into their mood and what they may be thinking but not sharing. Use this information to shape your end of the discussion and tailor your position accordingly.
As for my own frustrating situation, thankfully, I decided to sleep on it before taking any action. The next day, I emailed my client and asked if we could find a few minutes to speak on the phone. We both knew there were some issues we needed to resolve, and that there was a chance that this would be the end of our work together.
Although my top priority was making sure my last invoice was processed, I didn’t bring it up right away. I opened the conversation by reminding him of our long track record of success together and emphasized our shared goals. We discussed the benefits of continuing to work together and he offered some new solutions that we could try. We established that the relationship remained valuable to both of us and was worth preserving.
When I knew we were both feeling more comfortable, I brought up the outstanding invoice and asked him to process it for me. He agreed without hesitation.
This post originally appeared in Women@Forbes, where Alexandra Dickinson is a contributor. She writes about how to use a negotiation mindset to achieve your goals.