The Art of Mindful Negotiation

Concept of two people negotiating

Negotiation is something most of us experience in the job market at some point during our careers. Every month, 28,000 people search the internet for advice on how to negotiate a salary. And it can be a scary proposition to lay it all out there with a potential employer, especially if the job is one you’re really hoping to land. Ask too little, and you feel like you’ve undervalued yourself and now you’re stuck with the results. Ask too much and you risk the possibility of losing your shot altogether.

But what most people don’t realize is that negotiation is an art form. And like any skill, it takes practice and planning. Fortunately, we unconsciously negotiate many times every day, both with ourselves and with others. Looking at the process and determining a different way of approaching a negotiation can lead to a better outcome. If you’re planning to negotiate a salary for yourself in the future, or just need to brush up on those skills for a current role, professional coaching could help you gain confidence and skill before you sit down at the table. That’s where Gaetan Pellerin comes in.

Gaëtan Pellerin headshot
Photo by Nlalor Photography and courtesy of Gaëtan Pellerin

Meet the Expert

Gaetan Pellerin is an experienced executive coach who recently wrote a book titled, “Mindful Negotiation: Being More Aware in the Moment, Conquering Your Ego, and Getting Everyone What They Really Want.” He started in the medical field, transitioned into sales and business, and then as a marketing executive. His career path has given him a unique approach to breaking down the dynamics of the negotiation process. Throughout his life and career, he came to the realization that what fulfills him most is helping others.

Putting his experience and his drive together, he has become an expert in the field of negotiation consulting. His approach involves teaching people about being mindful, both of themselves and the person on the other end of the table. In this article, Pellerin discusses what holds us back from negotiating in a way that satisfies everyone.

What is Negotiation?

Negotiation happens when there is a conflict,” Pellerin says. “Maybe you have your version of something, you have an interpretation of something. I have a different interpretation,” he says. “We want to have a different outcome. That’s conflict.”

So how do you solve a conflict? There are many ways to resolve conflict, including problem solving and persuasion. One way to resolve conflict is by negotiating. “You want something. I want something. How can we both win something out of that? Negotiation,” Pellerin says.

Pellerin points out that not all negotiation happens in your career and occurs every day in our lives, such as having a conversation with a spouse where you disagree on something and try to persuade them to your point of view. He also says we negotiate with ourselves daily. “We negotiate with ourselves 15 times a day, right? Should I go to the gym? Should I wear that? Which restaurant am I going to tonight? Am I staying home? Am I afraid of getting sick?” Pellerin says.

Is There Always a Winner and a Loser?

Pellerin says a big misconception regarding negotiation is that the goal is to win. But the true goal of negotiation is to leave everyone feeling like they won something. It doesn’t always have to be a 50/50 split. Creating value for both sides should be the goal. Most people get this wrong and approach a negotiation with the intention of winning the argument. “Both sides are walking away with what they really wanted,” Pellerin says.

When you negotiate a salary for a new position, it’s easy to get lost in the numbers. And of course, the dollar amount is what most people focus on when they begin considering a negotiation like that. But according to Pellerin, people need to consider what the true driver is for them. “It’s not always about money,” Pellerin explains. “It’s sometimes about being recognized, being seen, being appreciated.”

Considering what the true motivation is for yourself before entering a negotiation needs to be applied to the other side as well, Pellerin says. To create value for both sides, you need to consider what the other side is valuing as well, or what the other side is afraid of. Being able to consider the needs of the other side allows you the space to answer those needs and create a true compromise.

Ego Getting in the Way

Pellerin says that the main reason people enter a negotiation with the wrong expectations is that they allow their ego to get in the way. “When our motivation is external to us, when we compare ourselves to others, every time that motivation is coming from outside of us, it’s because we are in our ego,” Pellerin explains.

So, what is the ego? Pellerin describes our ego as a learned personality. We learn how to behave as babies from our parents and our environment. “This is an unconscious, automatic, instinctive structure,” Pellerin says. “We don’t even feel like we’re doing something like that.”

And our reaction to that environment shapes our ego. According to Pellerin, the emotion attached to the ego gets in the way of negotiation, because the drive to win leaves us with a fear of losing. And the fear of upsetting the other side. So instead of being clear about our true wants and needs, we reflect on what we think the other person, society, parents, or family believes is relevant.

Internal Versus External Motivations

Pellerin stresses the importance of considering the motivations of the person were negotiating with. “When we negotiate, we need to differentiate as much as we can between external motivation versus internal motivation,” he says.

He harkens back to his time as a sales rep, and the negotiating he had to do in that role. Wanting to make money and make that bonus, for him, was about having the status, the bigger car, and the nicer home. “But if I’m doing that,” Pellerin says, “I’m always chasing something to please others.”

For most people, negotiating a salary isn’t really about the money. It’s about what that money means to them. “It’s about self-worth. It’s about how people see us. How am I comparing with others,” he says. “So, if we want to be successful, we need to go beyond the obvious.”

Trust And Honesty Are Key

Trying to gain an understanding of the other person’s internal motivations will require gleaning information from them. And that won’t be possible without first gaining a level of trust. Without trust on both sides, a true negotiation will be difficult. “If you ask me what I really want and I don’t trust you, I’ll probably never share that, right?” Pellerin says. “So trusting is part of it.”

Pellerin points out that even though most people enter into a salary negotiation with an idea of their monetary value, and that amount is usually their sticking point, it’s important to remember that the money usually represents something else. There’s always a motivation for seeking that amount of money. For some, it’s because they believe they know their value. “Most of us overvalue ourselves in the marketplace, which is fine,” Pellerin says. “That’s why it’s so hard to receive feedback because we feel we’re the best person ever. We’re not,” he notes. You cannot force someone to pay you a certain amount of money, but if you’re doing a good job, you may feel more apt to reveal your disappointment with the situation. Being honest in negotiating a salary is vital because even if you get the salary you’re hoping for, there’s still a possibility you may hate your job in the end.

What Else Is There But Money?

When it comes to negotiating for a new position, Pellerin says it’s necessary to examine all of the motivating factors and not just focus on the dollar amount. Personal growth and development drive many people looking for employment or promotion. Feeling empowered in the workspace, feeling like there is something to contribute, and the need to be seen are all things that motivate us toward growth.

Focusing on your personal needs and not just what you think you deserve can make the difference in successfully negotiating anything. “Nobody deserves anything,” Pellerin says. “This is our ego telling us you deserve. We want to be seen. We want to be heard. We want to be valued. Those are the needs we’re facing,” he says.

Consider politics. Politics involves lots of negotiations. Countries and heads of state are always negotiating with each other. “They are all in their ego,” Pellerin says. “It’s all about politics, around threats and blackmailing. That’s not what I’m talking about,” he says. Pellerin says when he coaches someone before a negotiation, he asks the right questions. What if you don’t get what you want? What else do you want besides that salary? Is quality of life important to you? Do you want to spend the next ten years at a job where you’re truly happy? Asking the right questions helps Pellerin direct his clients somewhere they maybe didn’t even know they needed to go.

Jumping Around to Get What You Want

Pellerin says it’s the fear of being vulnerable that keeps people forever seeking that perfect job, and that perfect salary to go with it. And while many eastern cultures have readily embraced self-awareness and a group mentality, western societies still focus on a tradition of individuality and self-contribution. Changing that perspective, Pellerin says, is a big step in learning to show that vulnerability without fear. And from there, changing the perspective from chasing a salary to chasing that happiness that we should truly be seeking.

Pellerin points out that many people have a massive change in perspective after a drastic life event, like a divorce, or the death of a family member. Often after experiencing these life upheavals, people suddenly realize they should care more about the quality of their life versus making a massive paycheck. Constantly chasing that bigger salary and that bigger promotion keeps us on a treadmill of sorts. And there may be no satisfactory ending in sight when we’re chasing like that. “I often hear people telling me ‘I don’t do it for money. I do it for principle,’” Pellerin says. “Why? Because a principle means something deeper in us. Principles are my values; my beliefs.”

It’s About Principles

Pellerin says once we have made the switch to focusing on internal motivations and principles, it’s important to identify and assess the emotions that come with them. When we don’t get what we want, we’re angry and upset. But why? What’s causing that feeling. But when we do something that makes us happy or gives us a good feeling, like helping another person or performing charity work, for example, there’s a different emotion that comes with that. Understanding the emotion behind our motivations can help us take the next step in a successful negotiation.

Planning And Using the Right Language

If you understand your own emotions, especially the ones that may come out during a negotiation, you are more easily able to plan their reactions beforehand. Understanding our own emotions, and the emotions of the person we are negotiating with helps us change our responses, change our answers, and change our body language. Have a plan on how to respond emotionally to different scenarios. Develop that sense of empathy for the other person and use that understanding to shape our responses.

The Four C’s – Four Steps to Mindfulness

Pellerin outlines four steps we can take to help us be more mindful. Taking a moment to examine and understand each of these steps, Pellerin says, can help us be more mindful and lead us to a better understanding of our emotions, our motivations, and ultimately, a more successful negotiation.

Connection

Pellerin says connecting with ourselves, including the physical changes that occur during certain moments in our lives, can give us a greater understanding of how our bodies respond. “Let’s connect with what’s going on inside of us. Because our bodies are a source of teaching that we ignore,” Pellerin says. Learning to stay grounded and connect with ourselves is an important first step.

Curiosity

Being curious about our motivations and responses allows us to understand those responses better. Pellerin describes it as “peeling the onion.” “If I don’t understand why I’m emotional in that moment, why I’m disappointed, I’m going to repeat that all over again,” Pellerin explains. So being curious about why those emotions are occurring in the first place helps gives us the foresight to examine ourselves.

Compassion

Having compassion, Pellerin says, should be applied to ourselves in all scenarios. When people don’t get the reaction they want from a negotiation, they may feel upset and angry. They feel judged and get upset when feedback is negative instead of positive. Having compassion for ourselves involves understanding why we are the way we are. “I need compassion. I need to accept the way I am,” Pellerin says. “It’s coming from my parents, my family, the church, society. It’s coming from the past,” he says. Understanding that makes it very easy for us to go into victim mode and hide, Pellerin says. That’s when it’s time to employ the fourth C in his methodology.

Change

Change allows us the choice to behave differently. Changing the perspective and asking a different question. “Is it true that if I buy a bigger house, I will be happy?” Pellerin says. “Is it true that If I change my car, I will be happy? If I bring my family on vacation, everybody will be happy?” he says. “What if it’s not true? What if I’m not right?” Pellerin says embracing change is like building a new circuit or a new connection between the neurons in the brain and body. Trying to break the patterns of the past and take a moment to behave differently.

How to Apply the Four C’s

Applying Pellerin’s methodology has to do with understanding that we have a choice to react differently. People often believe they make certain decisions or take particular actions because they don’t have a choice. But Pellerin believes people always have a choice, even if it’s not an obvious one. “People don’t want to change because they’re afraid,” he says. The fear comes from external sources, like a fear of what others will think about us and our choices. But the necessity of making those choices as an avenue to find happiness should outweigh the fear of potential judgment from others. And once that step has been taken, it frees us to change our perspective. “It’s being mindful,” Pellerin says. “It’s connecting with what will really resonate with us, what makes us happy, what we feel is worth pursuing for us, not for anybody else in the world.”

Five Mistakes People Make During Negotiation

1.   Don’t Assume You Know Your Counterpart

Making assumptions about the other person’s motivations is a big mistake, according to Pellerin. Don’t assume you know what the other person wants, especially without any means to test that assumption. Oftentimes when people lose out in a negotiation or are left feeling like they didn’t get what they wanted, it’s because they assumed something about the other person.

2.   Don’t Confuse Persuasion with Negotiation

Pellerin explains that people confuse persuasion with negotiation, but the mistake here comes from the fact that persuasion is always centered on ourselves. “Persuasion, it’s all about me. My proposal, my personality. I want to be right,” he says. “And when persuasion doesn’t work, people don’t know what else to do. So, they keep persuading,” he says. Pellerin explains that this creates a vicious cycle of unproductiveness. Instead of continuing this cycle, Pellerin says we should ask more questions to find out what’s working in the proposal and what’s not working. Being flexible in our strategy and trying to achieve an objective from a different perspective.

3.   Don’t Overestimate Your Qualities as a Negotiator

Pellerin says many people overestimate their abilities as a negotiator and don’t realize there might be a problem until they’re already involved in a conversation that’s not going as planned. This often leads to stress and emotion. Overestimating also involves a false belief that we can deal with that emotion when it arises. “I can be rational. I can take control of it,” Pellerin says.

4.   Learn From Your Experiences

Pellerin says that learning from negotiations that didn’t go as expected is vital to being able to grow our abilities and gain a different outcome. Too often, people walk away from an unsuccessful negotiation without examining what went wrong. Pellerin says we develop a false belief that next time will be different, but we enter the negotiations in the same way and use the same technique that failed the first time.

5.   Don’t Act from Fear

Negotiating can be scary and stressful for people, Pellerin says, not because of the negotiation itself, but from the fear of losing the deal. Many times, those last moments in a negotiation are when you are the most vulnerable. Maybe the other side agreed to your proposal but at the last minute threw in a stipulation. The fear of losing all that hard work drives people to accept things that might be considered a loss if they had the time to sit back and think about it. If a part of the negotiation doesn’t go as planned, don’t throw your bottom line out the window because of fear of losing the whole deal. This could lead to regret after the fact because even though you won, you gave up something or agreed to something in the process that you shouldn’t have.

Final Thoughts

For Pellerin, coaching others to succeed in negotiation is a calling. And he says the core idea behind his guidance involves Inviting people to connect with what makes them truly happy. And help them gain an understanding that they can behave differently to get a different outcome. “If that’s what they want in their heart, they’re going to be fine,” Pellerin says.