Mindset before and during a Stressful Conversation
July 27, 2020 10:24 AM   Subscribe

If you are good in stressful situations, especially if you are not naturally good but have improved, what is your mindset? What do you say to yourself? How to do you remain cool, calm and collected during the conversation?

I am about to discuss my rent with my landlord. I am not an experienced negotiator, and the conversation already stresses me out.

I do not want to take medications for anxiety, etc. though I may drink camomile tea before the meeting (or some other relaxation herb I may already have) and will most likely do plenty of breathing exercises. That is as far as I would go with therapeuticals. I am interested in the mindset, in the self-talk.
posted by Kitty_Levin to Work & Money (21 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Are you adverse to taking Tylenol? Might help, probably won’t hurt.
posted by MadMadam at 10:36 AM on July 27, 2020 [1 favorite]

It depends on what your hoped for outcome of a conversation is. In this case, what are you trying to accomplish with your landlord. Lower rent? Delay in payment? Fix something in the apartment?

To me, the key is knowing your limits. For example, when I bought my truck, I knew what the top amount I was willing to pay and was willing to walk away if they offered even one dollar more. No stress when I know what my top is. With a landlord who probably has the upper hand, again, know what outcomes you are willing to accept in advance and be willing to say no or to walk away.

The important part is to predetermine what your worst case outcome is that you can accept. To me, it is calming to have already game planned all the possible outcomes and knowing what I will say if landlord says X.
posted by AugustWest at 10:38 AM on July 27, 2020 [9 favorites]

I think what you are looking for is what to say for yourself in a negotiation, not in a stressful situation per se.

it seems like you are getting stressed about your stressed feelings -- it's okay to be stressed! It's okay to have anxiety! Personally I often get anxiety myself, but that doesn't mean I can't operate in a stressful situation effectively.

I don't have any idea what I say to myself, but one thing you could try saying to yourself is "I'm experiencing stress, but that's okay. I can feel these feelings, and still have a calm and effective negotiation with my landlord."

Also, having a plan really helps.
posted by yohko at 11:13 AM on July 27, 2020 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: @MadMadam Tylenol has a calming effect? Interesting. I am not averse to it.

@AugustWest Game plan sounds calming. It is a bit tough in my case because walking out is moving out, and that is not exactly an easy thing to do. I do not want to move, and I want a rent decrease. I am paying way above the current market price. I have to be willing to accept the current rent if he does not budge. Some of my friends recommend playing the waiting game, i.e. sending veiled threats that I might move out, and that option stresses me out.
posted by Kitty_Levin at 11:13 AM on July 27, 2020

I am not sure you have until the lease needs to be renewed, but I would actually do the opposite of what your friends are suggesting. They are suggesting avoidance and passive aggressive signaling. I would have the conversation with your landlord now. It can be an open ended discussion. "My lease is up in 3 months. I would like to discuss a renewal rate now. I would love to stay and sign another lease, but we have to discuss the monthly rate. My research shows that rents are, on average, for similar apartments, $400 less per month than mine. We can save each other the hassle of moving or finding another tenant by agreeing on a lower, but still market fair price now. I am appreciative of the fact that you have your own expenses to meet. What about, of the $400, I recapture $300. You still have an apartment that is renting for $100 over market. I am paying a little more than I want, but I avoid the expense and hassle of moving."

If he says no, you have three months (or however much time) to get ready to move and accept the fact you have to move. To me, better to know now than have the anxiety hanging over your head and then having to rush to find a place or be bitter about staying at the current rent.
posted by AugustWest at 11:27 AM on July 27, 2020 [20 favorites]

I agree with AugustWest and I would specifically say that in a negotiation you need to think about what you have to offer and what you're willing to accept.

If you're not willing to move out, honestly you're in a pretty weak negotiating position. I sympathize! My last landlord was incredibly unreasonable and penny-wise pound-foolish - she jacked up my rent any chance she got even though I was a wonderful tenant and the property was nothing special. And she had no plan for when I moved out! (The apartment ended up being vacant for months and I think ultimately rented for less than I'd been paying.) But I didn't want to move, either*, and I could afford the rent (even though it was excessive) so I stayed.

But anyway, if you're not ready to move yet, you could at least make it clear to your landlord that the rent increases have you *looking* to move (even though you don't want to), and if he wants to keep a desirable tenant who causes no problems and always pays on time** long-term, you need a break on the rent (if not an actual reduction, what about a free month of rent, or a multi-year lease with no increase in rent, or something else that's attractive to you?).

Good luck!

* I was living in an area where broker fees make switching rental properties very expensive and I was saving to buy, so I didn't want to move just to move again a year later.

** hopefully this describes you, otherwise you're in an even weaker position
posted by mskyle at 11:34 AM on July 27, 2020 [4 favorites]

Practice and rehearsal. During a stressful time, your mind is going to find it easier to redo something/rejudge something than to actually take the time to consider what's going on. Talk to your mirror (or a friend/partner) and practice conversation. Consider how/what the other side will receive your offers, and what potential counter offers would you consider acceptable and/or where you might go from there.

Like any battle plan, things go off once you actually start talking, but if you've had previous experiences with 1) land lords in general, and this one in particular you can have a lot of potentials covered. And needing to consider something that's almost something you've previously thought about will be much easier to consider under fire.
posted by nobeagle at 11:39 AM on July 27, 2020 [1 favorite]

My go-to is the “Quick Confidence” session by Andrew Johnson in Insight Timer (free app). It’s guided breathing/visualization and gets at exactly what I’m personally looking for in these situations - a calm and sharp mind. I listen to it before giving a presentation or going into a stressful meeting.
posted by moogs at 11:41 AM on July 27, 2020 [3 favorites]

Some things that have helped me improve in situations like this:

1. As someone else said, practice. With a friend is great, though I usually practice by myself. I come up with some phrases that I can say depending on the response I get.

2. Power pose. It may feel silly but it can't hurt. Also I try to be mindful of my body language during a conversation like this, since at times I've tended to revert to body language that lacks confidence.

3. Ask myself "what's the worst that can happen?" In your case, the worst thing is probably that the landlord says no, and then you are just where you started. Thinking about this ahead of time makes the conversation less weighty, and me less nervous.

4. Reframe my idea of success. You will not have control over the landlord's response, so your goal could be to express your question confidently and clearly.

This is more of a during the conversation tip:
5. Try not to talk more than necessary. I have a tendency to fill silence and it's especially detrimental during a negotiation. I try to prepare for awkward silence. During the silence, I take a deep breath and observe the other person. Then, if I have nothing to add and I really want to say something, if it is appropriate, I may mirror what they have said.
posted by beyond_pink at 11:52 AM on July 27, 2020 [4 favorites]

I use DBT interpersonal skills worksheets to plan my approach to a conversation, as well as to think ahead about some possible conversational situations.

Situations like
the other person trying to turn the conversation to some other topic
the other person requesting something I can't provide
the other person telling me there is nothing they can provide
the other person being willing to discuss and possibly compromise

And I think about three conversation priorities:
getting the stated goal (change in rent)
how I will feel about myself (strong, proud, persistent, respectful, patient)
how I want the other person to feel about me (strong, smart, respectful, cooperative rather than impatient, greedy, disrespectful or combative)

And I think about how I would rank them. Sometimes I care more about getting the rent changed than I do about my self image. Sometimes I care more about the landlord continuing to respect me than I care about the other two.

Every person decides which of these to prioritize in any given situation, and might find sometimes that in hindsight they wish they had chosen a different order.

Nobody is perfect at this. Give yourself space to breathe. I also plan ways for "coping ahead" by thinking of something relaxing to happen right after the conversation. A cup of iced tea, a bath, a home pedicure.
posted by bilabial at 12:31 PM on July 27, 2020 [5 favorites]

Physiologically--do everything you can to control your posture and body language. Keep your shoulders down and back, even though they'll want to hunch and creep up around your ears if you're anxious. Refuse to let yourself start taking quick, shallow breaths--make yourself take deep, slow, belly breaths. Wriggle your toes in your shoes to remind yourself to remain grounded.

It can be helpful to rehearse, but I'm usually most successful when I approach from a place of interest and curiosity. "Hey, I wanted to check with you about renewing for next year. I'd love to stay and was curious if you'd be open to a 'good tenant' discount on my rent based on market comps and my history of paying on time and being a conscientious tenant. Is that something you might consider?". If I go in with any kind of expectations for how the conversation is going to go, I usually end up scrambling to adjust when things don't go how I planned :)
posted by stellaluna at 1:51 PM on July 27, 2020

I do a lot of high-tension public speaking, often with media engagement. The main consideration that keeps me calm is preparation. That includes preparing the material in advance (write out your talking points; anticipate the questions or pushback you'll receive and write out your responses) and rehearsing its delivery (practice saying these things aloud, more than once as time allows). Real conversations don't follow a script, but there is real comfort in (1) taking your general thoughts and making them specific, (2) hearing how these thoughts actually sound out loud to make sure they sound like they're articulating points that you want to make, and (3) relying on the sort of "muscle memory" that comes from preparation and repetition. Seriously, even if I get five minutes' notice that I'll be interviewed, I'll take those precious few minutes to organize my thoughts on paper/screen, say them aloud, make any needed tweaks, and repeat.

I'll second all the suggestions above that are relevant to meditatively preparing your mind and body for these situations, and specifically focusing on what's relevant to negotiation. I only started meditating about a year and a half ago in the midst of some major life turmoil. I've become fond of a number of exercises, especially the very basic attention to the breath stuff and, when I'm really rattled, grounding exercises (Jack Kornfield is really good at leading these, long and short versions).

One thing's clear: courage itself is acknowledging fears and anxieties and working with them, in spite of them, rather than seeking to avoid them. At the end of a stressful speaking engagement or interview in which I consider that I prepared well and performed well, the sense of accomplishment I feel is... really something.

(Lastly, break a leg! I'm rooting for you.)
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 1:57 PM on July 27, 2020 [5 favorites]

Well, the worst case scenario is that you move, right? Which sucks. But it's not the end of the world. I agree that it can be very helpful to practice scripts like what was written above. You don't have to memorize it, but it's okay to have key points written in order on a piece of paper. Say it out loud a bunch. Say it in different ways. Maybe look in the mirror and practice deep breathing beforehand. Visualize the conversation going well. And know that if it doesn't go well, moving totally sucks, but it's also not nearly as scary as this conversation might feel.

I agree that putting off this conversation is only going to lead to more anxiety for you. Go ahead and start the conversation now. Make an offer and be direct and clear. Your landlord should at least respect that.
posted by bluedaisy at 1:59 PM on July 27, 2020 [1 favorite]

sending veiled threats that I might move out

...why? all that's going to do is - in the event landlord even picks up on your signal - get them ready to start thinking about what to do to replace you. Why start them down that mental path?

Prepare by preparing. Do your research on area rents. Have a craigslist search ready to show the landlord. Know your bottom line. Do some math on how much they'd lose if the apartment were vacant, and be prepared to illustrate it. Say you're paying $1000 now and you want a $50 decrease; that's $600 the landlord would lose over the course of a year; but it would take the apartment being vacant less than a month to cost them that, plus they'd have to repaint, replace or clean carpet, etc.; and new tenants are always a crapshoot. If you are quiet, pay on time, and don't break things, you're an asset (full disclosure: not all landlords think this way, but smart ones do.)

Think of it as you're offering them a win/win scenario.
posted by fingersandtoes at 4:52 PM on July 27, 2020 [2 favorites]

AugustWest and mskyle have it. Mindset to me comes from feeling assured that I have a plan A and a plan B I could live with. Then I can not feel desperate, because I’ve got an out. After that it’s just about regular communication (being clear and respectful, and because I’ve got something at stake, firm). Mainly though it’s just having a plan.
posted by cotton dress sock at 4:52 PM on July 27, 2020 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you, everyone, for your responses! Every one of them feels like a key piece of the whole puzzle. Not surprisingly a couple of ideas that were mention are things I use occasionally, but the stress wiped out even these couple of strategies.

The big day for talking with the landlord should be tomorrow (hopefully). I will write my points and use some of the language suggested here and practice. I will also lurk here if other suggestions come in.

(By all accounts, I am a model tenant: paying on time, quiet, clean. Fingers crossed.)
posted by Kitty_Levin at 5:04 PM on July 27, 2020

Good luck with the negotiation! This is likely too late but a good book on negotiation is Never Split the Difference.
posted by storybored at 5:26 PM on July 27, 2020 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: @storybored Thank you! I have that book. But I need to practice implementing the ideas. I think I bought it last year for the same occasion as this year.
posted by Kitty_Levin at 5:44 PM on July 27, 2020 [1 favorite]

Lots of people will not appreciate veiled threats any negotiation, and since you're already uncomfortable with that I'd avoid it.

From how you have put this question, it seems like your landlord is likely to also be the owner of the property, and probably does not own a huge number of properties or they would not be meeting with you individually.

I would not directly say that I was quiet, or point out that I was paying on time or otherwise try to directly claim I was a good tenant.

I would start in by telling the landlord how much you have enjoyed living in their property, and how much you appreciate that is a well-maintained and quiet space (I'm assuming these are true, since you want to keep living there). I would say I'd really love to continue living there (And there might be a mention of a lease term here, or maybe you'll say "as long as I'm in City x", or just skip discussion of how far into the future...), but of course it's always a smart plan to check on what else is out there before signing a new lease, and unfortunately I can't financially justify paying what seems to be over market rate. Might say something in here about because I want to pay off my student loans sooner, put more money towards retirement, etc -- something that sounds responsible!

Might mention something about being open to a longer lease term at a lower rate, if that's something I was interested in. Presented more as an idea than something I am pushing for, because a longer lease term might not be appealing to them.

I'd end what I was saying by mentioning I understand if they would like some time to think about this before giving me an answer.
posted by yohko at 3:36 AM on July 28, 2020 [1 favorite]

I know I'm late to this, but I just wanted to say I have watched several professional price negotiators work and it never ceases to amaze me how simple it is.

"Hey, sales guy. Can you do anything for us on the price?" "Yeah, I can give you 10% off, is that good?" (My jaw, in the background, hits the floor.)

You don't want to start by flooding them with data or getting on the defensive or bringing out threats - have your data and your fallback plan in your pocket but start with just the ask and see what they can do!
posted by Lady Li at 4:53 AM on July 28, 2020 [1 favorite]

I would caution you not to think of your landlord as a salesperson. Very different motivations apply.

Landlord's motivation is some combination of maximizing profit while minimizing risks. Risks include damage to property; extra maintenance costs; having a troublesome or demanding tenant; vacancy. You're wanting to reduce the profit; so you want to think about how you can counterbalance that by showing that this would be made up for in minimization of risk.
posted by fingersandtoes at 10:57 AM on July 28, 2020 [1 favorite]

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