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How To Shake Your Nerves When Negotiating

Last week I went to return a pair of pants. A sign at the store’s checkout counter read, “No refunds without receipt.” The stakes weren’t high. I could always donate. But I wanted a return. While standing in a long line, I felt like I was breaking the rules. My heart rate increased. Surprisingly, I was a little anxious about hearing the cashier’s possible rejection.

Before you make a request, or enter into a negotiation, it’s normal to experience an adrenaline rush, similar to the nervous feeling you get just before you stand up to speak in front of an audience. This adrenaline rush is actually a healthy response! But if you aren’t prepared for the extra energy, the “power surge” can throw you off.  When you are in a stressful situation or negotiation, use the ASK Strategy.

A: Aware

S: Seek clarification

K: Know your next-best request

A: Aware

Be aware of what is happening. What do you notice about the other person’s demeanor, words, voice, and posture? What about you? Can you observe how your body is reacting? Are you breathing too quickly, are your eyes tearing up, are you fidgeting? Being aware of where you are helps too. One trick to stay present is focusing on your surroundings – such as the fabric of your chair, the color of the walls, the flooring, etc.

Think through the following:

  • “My shoulders feel tight. What is stressful about this request?”
  • “I’d like to communicate clearly and be calm without being sabotaged by my emotions. What can I notice about my environment?”

 S: Seek clarification

Mediators call this “Live in the Question.” When stressed seek clarity by asking others “how” and “what” questions. Repeat the exact words you hear without emotion. Then, ask, “Did I understand you correctly?” or clarify by asking, “What would be an example?”

Breathe. Then, ask yourself:

  • “Based on what I heard, what are my options?”
  • “With this new insight, what’s the worst thing that could happen?”

K: Know

Know your next, best request. With the information you gained, know what you should do or ask next. Do you need to ask more questions to clear up an understanding or to find out your options? Have you learned what you needed? If so, should you stop or ask for more than you thought?

You don’t have to know your entire strategy, just what you should do next. With what you learned and now know, ask yourself:

  • “What action step or request makes the most sense right now?”
  • “If I knew I wouldn’t fail, what outrageous request would I make?”

Pay attention to how stress affects you. Remember, much of what you worry about won’t actually occur. Those nerves can help you focus on your behavior and theirs. Use the anticipation to your advantage.

P.S. Did I get a refund of my money? No. But my request resulted in a store credit which I spent and then bought more. Also, overcoming my reluctance to ask increased my customer loyalty – a great result.


A recognized authority on negotiations, workplace issues, and persuasive communication, Linda Swindling is an author and former employment attorney. Linda has authored or co-authored 18 books, including her new book Ask Outrageously! The Secret to Getting What You Really Want. Follow her on twitter @LindaSwindling or visit