Prof Freeman, How can I not feel nervous before a negotiation? I enjoy the practice we get in each class, but I can’t help feeling nervous. Not just in this class, but with any negotiation. Are there tactics or recommendation?


Dear Jill, An excellent question about a universal concern. I feel it too sometimes! Here are some suggestions.

1. Prepare Well.

One of the first ways to deal with nervousness is to consider your experience before an exam. If you’re not well prepared, you tend to be much more nervous than if you are well-prepared. (Of course, you’re still going to have some feeling before the exam, and to some extent that may be a good thing.)

That means that preparation is a crucial way to manage your feelings. I’ve designed the I FORESAW IT mnemonic in part to help you do just that. (I FORESAW IT is a mnemonic that lists ten questions a negotiator should ask and answer before a negotiation. For details, go to the home page and click on “I FORESAW IT.”) Students often write, “I calmed down once I began working through the mnemonic.” One reason is because it gives you a way to put your nervous energy to good use. As psychologists say, “action absorbs anxiety.”

2. Visualize and Role Play.

Certain I FORESAW IT concepts such as Empathy and Reactions & Responses can help lower your stress further because they encourage you to visualize and role-play, which can reduce your fear. Indeed, don’t waste your fear- put it to full use by rehearsing in advance the things you’re afraid about. “What if she says this? That?”

Think through good responses. You may not be able to remember a script, but anticipating the problems beforehand is a great way to defuse their power. (Try role-playing with a friend or teammate for extra realism.) Factual research can also reduce stress, since fear of the unknown is often a big contributing factor. Fight fear with knowledge.

3. Find A Strong Alternative to Agreement.

Of course, developing your Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement (BATNA) is a very good way to calm down. But even if you’re BATNA is weak, good preparation may help.

4. Use a “Topics, Targets and Tradeoffs” Grid.

Bringing a Topics, Targets, and Tradeoffs grid with you to the talks can also give you confidence. That’s something you prepare at the end of your I FORESAW IT plan. It can serve as a guide when you’re not sure what to suggest next. For more information, go to my website at and click on “I FORESAW IT” to find an essay about the mnemonic itself. Read the last part of the essay, which discusses this Topics, Targets, and Tradeoffs tool.

5. Consider Relaxation Techniques and Prayer.

I can’t vouch for relaxation techniques myself, but my wife tells me she’s had a lot of success before auditions using a simple relaxation exercise, tensing and releasing one part of her body and then another in a quiet place a few minutes before she goes on stage. (If you are so inclined, it may be worth considering prayer too- prayer for wisdom, for strength, for courage, and for the other person.)

6. Consider that Nervousness Does Not Predict Performance.

But what if you prepare and you still feel nervous? Here’s a lesson I’ve learned from reading about a thousand reports about students’ real life negotiations-nervousness doesn’t predict performance. Very often students write, “I still felt pretty nervous going in, but afterwards I was very happy with how things went.” Especially if you’ve done your homework, residual anxiety is not a sign of what’s to come.

7. Work with Teammate(s).

But what if you find that nervousness is still a problem, perhaps because it makes the negotiation process so unpleasant that you want to avoid it? Or because you find that nervousness is effecting your results? One partial solution is to bring a teammate. You can ask her to take the lead if you feel you’re losing it. Alternatively, you can agree beforehand who’ll do what in the talks so you can concentrate on your duties.

* Name changed to protect privacy