You’re in the middle of a heated debate with your colleague. You want to come across as confident, but inside you feel like Bambi. During these difficult situations, there are actually two conversations happening at the same time. One is obvious: It’s the conversation out there in the world that we typically focus on — with our colleague, client, boss, subordinate, or friend. And the other is the equally important conversation — or, more typically, the negotiation — we’re conducting inside ourselves about the extent to which we’re willing and able to stretch beyond our comfort zones.
The interesting thing is that you can apply some of the very same strategies you’d use for difficult conversations with someone else to the negotiations occurring within yourself.
Strategy #1: Question your position.
With someone else: One of the most common pieces of advice for negotiating with another person is to dig beneath the surface of your “stated” position — as well as that of your colleague — to find interests you may have in common, which can lead to a mutually beneficial solution.
Within yourself: You can apply this exact same strategy within yourself as well, especially to situations where you experience internal resistance to stepping outside your comfort zone. For example, your “position” might be that you’re unwilling to consider being more assertive, but could you dig a little deeper to ask yourself why? Is it an emotional challenge? Are you afraid of being assertive? Or is it a skill-based challenge? Do you not actually know how to be more assertive? Getting to the bottom of why you’re unwilling to step outside your comfort zone is the first step.
Strategy #2: Keep your cool.
With someone else: One of the biggest challenges of negotiation is keeping your cool. When you get angry or frustrated and lash out at the other person, it’s unlikely the negotiation will end up going very well.
Within yourself: Again, this very same advice works internally as well. If you don’t regulate your emotions internally, it will be very hard externally to achieve a solution that meets your interests. For example, if your feelings of sympathy get out of whack, you might end up caving in when you don’t need to, or you might have a difficult time delivering a negative message that might be critical for standing up to your interests.
If your anxiety gets out of control, that, too, might make it difficult to stand your ground, or even to have the flexibility to consider creative solutions to a win-win type of agreement. When we are very anxious, psychology research says we end up “narrowing” instead of broadening. That makes it hard to be creative in our negotiation strategy and difficult to have a positive outlook on the negotiation itself, which researchhas shown to be important for effectively handling these situations.
Strategy #3: Search for win-win solutions.
With someone else: When negotiating with someone else, we’re often looking for “win-win” solutions. The agreement is more likely to stick when both sides get something of value from it.
Within yourself: This same idea of win-win can also apply to negotiations you have with yourself. Is there a way for you to step outside your comfort zone, act in a way that you know is necessary but feels uncomfortable for you — and (this is the key) do it on your own terms? In other words, create that win-win inside yourself.
For example, you might know you need to lay down the law and be tough, but you might only feel comfortable doing it if you first praise the other person or preface your remark with a genuinely felt, “I’m really sorry about this, but…” The point is that there are a myriad of ways you can personalize or adjust your style to get the job done on your terms. And by creating this win-win inside yourself, you’ll have an even better chance of finding that middle ground with the other person you’re dealing with.
In the end, we all want to stand up for what we believe in and get what we deserve in any difficult conversation. But it’s critical to realize that in most situations there are really two difficult conversations happening at the same time. Unless you recognize and manage both effectively, you’ll have a challenging time achieving your ultimate goals.
Andy Molinsky is a Professor of International Management and Organizational Behavior at the Brandeis International Business School. He is the author of GLOBAL DEXTERITY (HBR Press, 2013) and REACH: A New Strategy to Help You Step Outside Your Comfort Zone, Rise to the Challenge, and Build Confidence (Penguin, forthcoming – early 2017). Follow Andy on twitter at @andymolinsky.
This piece originally appeared at Harvard Business Review.