• Martin Medieros

What is emotional self-sufficiency, and why does it matter in negotiation?

Updated: Nov 8, 2019

Guest Blogger: Dr. Katherine Hofmann

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.” ― Sun Tzu, The Art of War

There is no interaction unchaperoned by emotions (excepting, of course, those exceedingly rare cases of true psycho- and neuropathology, in which emotions are rendered inert). Most all interactions are guided by the emotional standing of those involved: feeling good-will or appreciation for someone or a situation informs a very different interaction then does ambivalence or anger. Use this to your advantage.

In order to use your emotions to your advantage, you must first become aware of them. And not only must you become aware of them, but you must take responsibility for the fact that you are in charge of your emotions and act accordingly. Enter emotional self-sufficiency. This is the awareness that you run your emotions followed by action based on that awareness. In order to be emotionally self-sufficient, you must first — before you even consider walking into a negotiation — check yourself.

  • What are your feelings as you anticipate the deal?

  • What are your views of the other party?

  • How do you hope it will pan out?

  • What would the worst case scenario be?

  • And how do those situations make you feel?

  • What symptoms or sensations arise in your body as you reflect on the negotiation at hand?

  • If you could script your ideal situation and outcome, what would happen?

This may sound like idle navel-gazing. A complete and total waste of time. And of course, time is your one non-renewable commodity… use it as you see fit. And know that if you would rather not get in tune with your emotional makeup, you will continue to lose out when you enter negotiations. And I’m not only talking about money in professional deals. Many a marriage is mended or broken based on the emotional awareness each party — or lack thereof.

Emotional self-sufficiency provides not only awareness before you enter a negotiation, but as you become more adept it will inform your moves and counter-moves during the course of the negotiation — so that the ending is ultimately in your favor. Improving awareness of your emotions and how they show up in your body lets you know at an earlier and earlier stage when you need to make a change.

An example:

You just got home and find out your spouse has neglected to pay the bills he or she said they would pay. Seemingly out of nowhere, you are yelling accusations and fuming about how you are going to lose your job and so good luck with that, kid. Meanwhile your spouse’s head is spinning, maybe they yell back, maybe they slink off, ashamed and hurt. Either way, no one is winning here.

But back up for a moment…no emotion comes from nowhere.

Earlier in the day at work you were frustrated because a team project is not going to plan. Members of the team are late getting materials to you, if they have any to give at all. You are on the line, you’ve been feeling pressured about the whole thing… and while you do know you feel stressed, and you can pinpoint the knucklehead(s) who is (are) doing this to you, you can’t change your feeling. This is the situation, after all, and you’re just the poor schmuk who has to deal with the fallout.

This, my friend, is emotional ineptitude. Being somewhat aware of emotions but not taking personal responsibility for your part in them. Letting yourself be at the mercy of whatever situations life dishes out at you. Labeling everything as ‘stress’ rather than being able to pinpoint the emotion, articulate its meaning for you, and state what need you have and troubleshoot how to get it met (‘stress’ is not an emotion, FYI. Anger, fear, frustration, and anxiety are the emotions most frequently feeding ‘stress’).

And, if negotiation is all about getting your needs met (and it is), you can’t very well have a successful negotiation if you don’t even know what those needs are, much less how to get them met.

What does the same situation look like with emotional self-sufficiency?

You would first note the changes in your body as you became frustrated at work. You would think ‘I’m really frustrated about this project. Wow, my shoulders are really tense, and I feel like I can’t get a good deep breath in. Let me take a minute to collect myself.’ You would take a few deep breaths, maybe a short walk outside, and take stock of what you could or could not control (you would NOT rehearse or replay all the things that are going wrong). Returning to the office, you would then work on those things you could control (yourself). You would do some creative solution finding. Maybe you would re-organize tasks among team members, check in on why things are not happening with individuals of the team, see how you might help and motivate your team to finish on deadline at the very least. You still come home to domestic strife… frustrating, sure. But you are not quite so concerned, and you know that you all will find your way through after all. Some creative solution finding again, and now the household bills are on autopay. No shame, no blame, marital harmony restored.

You can see how this might play into a high-stakes negotiation. You get angry after a shot at your ego, the other party is smug, the tables turn, and hours and dollars are lost as the negotiation gets nowhere. Both parties dig their heels in to protect their egos and stall the other side. Meanwhile no one gets anything at all, and in fact the losses accrue — rapidly. You must know yourself well enough to be able to flag when emotions come up that will hinder a negotiation. Your ego may be bruised, but it is certainly not broken. Let it go and check out the bigger view.

This is only one half of the picture though… as Sun Tzu says, you must also know your enemy to win the battle. Whether the battle-ground of your negotiation is a contentious end to a business relationship or a sweet new beginning, it pays to know how emotions play with the other party.

There is a scene in Star Trek: Next Generation where Captain Picard sets out a tray of apparently delectable alien canapés, beloved by the admiral, with whom he has had, shall we say, a strained relationship. Picard’s first officer remarks on the setting… why so much effort for someone so unappealing? To change the dynamic. To shift the relationship to mutual respect and appreciation, rather than contention.

While the emotional state of someone else always falls on the list of things outside of your control, you can hint and persuade. Humans are not so complex — we all want to be seen, heard, appreciated. Use this to your advantage. Do some research. When you do something like give an unexpected gift, it will make an impact. Give a compliment about something you know they are proud of — before you ask anything. Acknowledge that you get where the other person is coming from. Show interest in their hobbies. If in doubt, there’s always good old-fashioned listening. All excellent ways to tip the emotions of the other party in your favor (of course, NSR has all the information you need on these tactics and more besides).

Strategies and tactics are great and will get you far… but foundational to everything else you will do to up-level your negotiation is getting control of yourself. Make your emotions work for you. Stay sharp and in tune with your body and take cues to improve your situation. You can’t change what you don’t know. And the more you know, the more empowered and effective you will be at negotiation in every area of your life.

Dr. Katherine Hofmann specializes in mental health and is adept at mixing the scientific and spiritual, measurable (lab results) and immeasurable (your unique experience). She maintains a private practice in Portland, Oregon, and can be reached at More information about her practice and emotional self-sufficiency is available on her website, podcast, blog and eBook shop.

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