The first article in this series showed how to get a clear picture of the person you’re negotiating with. Once you have that, do this.

You have a lot on your mind when you’re negotiating. The last thing you want is to add something to your to-do list. But this is one of the most powerful ways you can support your success. And it will only take about five minutes of conscious thought.

Set Three Goals

Our brains are lazy.

Too often we believe we know how to do something, so we dive in and wing it. Pretty soon, a situation has taken a right turn into a landscape we didn’t expect, and we’re tap dancing as fast as we can. Now our brains are in crisis mode: using lots of energy on risk analysis and defense. Let’s avoid that.

Three is the magical number of goals to set. It’s the largest number of ideas your short-term memory can hold. (If you set five, chances are good by the time you get to #4 you’ve forgotten #1 and you’re standing in #2.) Plus this forces you to prioritize what you really want — and not diffuse your focus by trying to juggle too many items.

In a negotiation, it’s easy to start with “I want this …” A raise. The job I’m interviewing for. More resources for my team. These terms on my vendor agreement or in this M&A. But you know the situation isn’t only about you. It’s time to widen your perspective.

Spend five minutes writing your goals in advance. Use these questions to guide you:

  1. What do I want to create? (versus “I want this”)
  2. Who do I want to be in this negotiation process?
  3. What do I want the other person/people/organization to get?

Break Out a Pen or Pencil

Do this in longhand to get both sides of your brain working with you.

The left side gets engaged because you’re thinking in words. The right side is stimulated by your hand moving across the page, whether you’re right- or left-handed. (Typing at a keyboard isn’t enough movement to interest your right brain.) Get all of your brain working with you for better results.

Your brain also loves “imagine” scenarios: peering into a possible future without getting bogged down in barriers. Plus the goals that you create from these will help you exude goodwill with your negotiating partners. In most cases, this makes them want to reciprocate.

Unleash Your Unconscious Mind

Your conscious mind can handle 10-50 bits of information per second. Your unconscious mind can process 14+ million!

When you set a goal, your unconscious mind starts chewing on it: looking for ways to help you get what you want. Ideas start to bubble up. It’s like magic!

You’ll think of a question to ask. Or a strategy to use. Or how to show an objection isn’t a deal-breaker. All of this happens without you expending any more conscious energy. I say, get your whole brain working with you to make good things happen.

Caution: Be careful what you feed your unconscious mind. It can’t tell the difference between positive and negative goals. If you’re thinking, “They’ll never sign off on this!” your unconscious mind will believe that’s what you want and will find ways to help you screw up the deal.

Feeling stuck? When that happens to me, I’ll ask myself a question before going to sleep — unleashing my unconscious mind on it. Most of the time I’ll wake up (sometimes at 2:00 a.m.) with a good idea.

Use the power of goal setting and your unconscious mind to better prepare for your next negotiation. You’ll likely see a better outcome — and experience the added benefit of walking into the situation more confident and prepared.