Negotiation and Our Neuromuscular Systems

Updated: Dec 10, 2020

Negotiation is a regular part of our work environment, spouse dynamics, friend circles, and even relationships with our children. The negotiation field is expanding from many angles, and an area that deserves further exploration is how our mind-body connection applies to a negotiation process. A 2012 Harvard Study found that “cognition and emotion are important elements of negotiation…the growing body of research in the cognitive sciences may be able to help us improve negotiation instruction.” Attorney, mediator, arbitrator and co-founder of Neuroawareness Consulting Services, Jeremy Lack, has delved deeper into this type of work and outlined ten “Neuro-Principles” that help explain how people react during a negotiation processes:

“Our heightened sensitivity to danger and fear means that we respond to negative stimuli much more quickly, dwell on them longer, and consequently have fewer resources available for other cognitive activity so that we are ready for urgent flight or fight responses. In the context of negotiation, this means that it can take more work to build trust and work towards agreements by stimulating feelings of reward and pleasure than it takes to derail a process by doing something to trigger feelings of danger or fear.”

What does this mean for companies and organizations? Particularly if tensions are high between two people or groups, a “fight/flight” response can factor into the communication process. Wellness expert and author, Mary NurrieStearns, explains, “Specifically, under stress: your heart beats faster and your muscles tense, your breathing becomes shallow and you start to perspire, the flow of blood to your internal organs and extremities decreases, the functioning of your immune and digestive systems is inhibited.” During stress mode, the amygdala part of the brain functions in high gear, which makes it difficult for people to fluidly brainstorm interests and options. Fight/flight can limit a person’s creative abilities and hinder them from finding new solutions to a problem.

The good news, however, is that humans are also equipped with a “relaxation response” that can counter fight/flight mode. Breathing deeply can trigger this relaxation response by engaging the prefrontal cortex, which helps bring calmness and clarity. Some simple calming techniques can have an effect on how people communicate with one another in the workplace. When people understand stress responses more adequately, and professional environments can encourage stress-reducing tools, co-workers can reduce conflict and embark on healthy negotiation and problem solving approaches.

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