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  • Writer's pictureMarc Saris

Role-Playing: The Key to Stabilizing Your Emotions During Negotiations

Updated: Jan 30

"The more you sweat in peace, the less you bleed in war" is a Chinese proverb that applies not only to war but also to negotiations, which can be challenging, particularly when dealing with difficult people or complex issues. As the saying goes, practice makes perfect. By conducting role-playing exercises to prepare for negotiations, negotiators can increase their chances of success.

Role-play is a simulation exercise in which individuals practice different scenarios with other people, each person taking on a specific role. In the context of negotiation, role-playing can help negotiators increase their confidence, stabilize their emotions, prepare for difficult scenarios such as questions and statements from the other party, and practice communicating in a firm and consistent way.

Practice in a safe space

One of the primary benefits of role-playing is that it allows negotiators to practice their communication skills in a safe and controlled environment. By simulating different negotiation scenarios, negotiators can develop a better understanding of how to respond to different challenges. It also allows the negotiator to test different replies to determine which one would likely have the desired effect.

Stabilize your emotions Another benefit of role-playing is that it helps to stabilize emotions. Negotiations can often be tense and stressful, and role-playing can help negotiators learn how to stay calm and focused in high-pressure situations. When negotiators come across a practiced scenario in real life, they have already gone through the experience, allowing them to control their emotions and remain composed and confident.

The Ideal Setup In an ideal role-playing setup, there are three key roles: one person playing the other party, the negotiator(s), and an observer who takes notes and provides feedback. It is important to choose a person who can convincingly play the other party so that the negotiator can practice responding to realistic scenarios.

It is important to note that the role-play should be conducted at the end of the preparation phase, just before the negotiation execution starts. The purpose of the role-play is to test the negotiators' knowledge of the preparation they have done. They should know the communication plan by heart, know how to react to certain questions, and know what to do when obstacles appear. Think of the role-play as putting the dots on the "i", the last checks and balances before the real deal.

During the role-playing exercise, negotiators should focus on practicing their communication skills, such as active listening, clarifying questions, and summarizing key points. They should also practice their proposal delivery, including presenting their proposal in a clear and concise way and responding to objections and concerns.

The individual(s) playing the other party should also have the preparation in front of them, bringing up the difficult questions that were identified in the preparation, and bringing up obstacles to stress-test the reaction of the other party. They should also research the other party's negotiator, understand their position, seniority, experience, and likely style. This can be achieved by looking the person up on LinkedIn or asking around with people who have experience negotiating with the counterparty.

The role of the observer is crucial as they will provide feedback after the mock negotiation. They have all the preparation in front of them and are observing whether the negotiator sticks to the prepared plan. If the negotiator deviates, feedback should be given. The observer should also evaluate if the prepared replies are effective or if certain things need to be reworded after testing. They should also provide feedback on the negotiator's performance, highlighting areas of strength and areas for improvement.

Effective role-playing can greatly affect the outcome of a negotiation. Therefore, it is wise to schedule time for it and plan accordingly.


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