How to Manage Shame, Guilt & Self Esteem in Negotiations

Have you ever backed down in a negotiation or felt your power dwindle because someone tried to shame you, or guilt you? Is it easy to trigger you and get you off course from achieving your objectives? Is self-esteem an issue that holds you back? It wasn’t long ago that we rarely heard negotiation experts or academics talk about the role of emotion in negotiations. The focus was primarily on tactics, strategies, and skills. Emotion was thought to have no role in negotiations. 

Now, much attention is given to the role of emotion in how we negotiate and the outcomes we achieve. EQ – or emotional intelligence – is the new buzz term in the industry with good reason. Our emotional state can profoundly impact on our success (or lack thereof) in our negotiations. 

Confidence is key in negotiations. When our self-esteem is under attack (either internally or externally) and/or we buy into feelings of shame or guilt in a negotiation, our fight, flight or freeze fear response is triggered. This blocks the clarity required for best negotiated outcomes. 

In fact, studies on the impact of anxiety in negotiations showed that those experiencing anxiety were easier to manipulate and engaged in a range of self-sabotaging behaviour including accepting advice from those known to have a conflict of interest, leaving more on the table, leaving negotiations earlier and generally being more tentative.  

Some negotiators may feel shame or guilt themselves and attempt to project it onto you. Some, however, intentionally seek to guilt, shame or otherwise undercut the self-esteem of their negotiation counterparts as a tactic to gain advantage. Women, in particular, have been subject to shaming for advocating for themselves. Note this doesn’t just come from men as against women, but also includes women attempting to shame or guilt other women, and even our own self-shaming and guilting. 

It’s important to do the inner work to own your own value and practice unconditional self-love. Give yourself permission to be wholly, authentically who you are. Seek to get the goal you’re looking to achieve while staying true to yourself. 

This issue of authenticity sometimes shows up in whether we bring our masculine or feminine energy to the table. We all have both masculine and feminine energy. For too long though, we’ve been conditioned to define success based on masculine, competitive models. This can result in us showing up with a ‘take no prisoners’ competitive style that may not be natural or authentic to us. I was guilty of this approach for many years. I got great outcomes, but at a high personal cost. At the other end of the spectrum, it can cause us to back away from negotiations altogether, fearing the potential conflict. Added to that, we’re also conditioned as women to be selfless nurturers and caregivers, so advocating for ourselves can seem taboo. For more on this, see my TEDx talk on the Rise of the Feminine Voice. 

Recognize the fears and triggers that show up for you and be intentional about how you choose to react. Be intentional about who you choose to show up as. Consider this part of your preparation process. Additionally, consider who the other party may show up as and prepare how you’ll address it. That way, you’ll be less likely to end up in reactive mode and better able to maintain the clarity you need to stay focused on best outcomes. 

If you have struggled with self-esteem, shame, or guilt issues in your negotiations, don’t beat yourself up about it. Awareness is always the key starting point to effective change. Recognize that you’re not alone. There is deep generational conditioning that contributes to feeling ‘less than’ or undeserving. Heck, it’s only recent history that women were able to hold property, vote or even be recognized as persons in the eyes of the law in many jurisdictions. 

The beauty is that it’s never too late to choose a change, to make a decision to push past the conditioning to a more empowered state. The more we push outside our comfort zone, the more competence we acquire. As we get more competence, we increase our confidence. With more confidence comes more willingness to push even further outside our comfort zone, and so we acquire ever-increasing competencies, and with them, increased confidence. This is known as the competence-confidence loop.  

As we trust in ourselves to try new things, we continue to grow. As we grow, we move from unconscious incompetence, to conscious incompetence, to unconscious competence, to conscious competence. Knowing that this is a natural progression, helps us stick with it when we hit the conscious incompetence stage to push through to the conscious competence.

And don’t be afraid to try on some power poses in the meantime to get you through. Amy Cuddy’s work on this issue is particularly helpful. If you find yourself feeling insecure or suffering a momentary self-esteem dip, simply adopt a power pose for two minutes. i.e. raise your arms in the victory pose, or put your hands on your hips in a Wonder-Woman pose, or any posture that exudes confidence and power. Studies show taking these poses increases our testosterone levels and decreases cortisol levels. 

I also advocate that my clients create a ‘Brag List’. Start by listing 25 things you love about yourself. Include attributes, qualities, accomplishments, characteristics, etc. Every night, just before you go to sleep, when your subconscious is most receptive to take in information and process it, read over your ‘brag list’ and add 5 new things you can brag about. Imagine the cumulative power of allowing your unconscious 8 hours to bask in celebration of yourself. It’s a beautiful way to retrain our brains to embrace more empowering beliefs about ourselves. 

All of life is a negotiation. It’s important to get intentional about showing up in your most empowered state to get what you want and deserve. Recognizing where shame, guilt or self-esteem issues are standing in the way of your best outcomes is the first step in redressing the issue. 



guilt, Negotiations, self-esteem, shame, shame guilt self-esteem

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