Meditation: A Secret Superpower For Negotiation

  • By Dina Kaplan
  • August 25, 2016

When I started meditating, I knew it would make me calmer. It would slow my racing mind and help me project a less frantic energy. I wanted to feel, and be, more relaxed.

I wanted this for my personal life.

But meditation had a profound impact I didn’t expect on my professional life. It dramatically improved my skills at negotiation.

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I used to be a terrible negotiator. I often didn’t get what I wanted and angered whomever I was negotiating with — the worst of both worlds!

Once I began meditating, this changed dramatically. I went from almost never getting what I wanted and leaving people upset to being so successful it almost scares me. Now I accomplish what I need and leave my counterpart feeling good about the deal and our relationship.

All this changed from meditating 20 minutes a day.

What happened?

First, meditation quiets your mind, which creates space to absorb more information than you could imagine collecting. You begin to notice what people are telling you in addition to their words, such as their vibe, tone and body language. As legendary management guru Peter Drucker said, “The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said.” Albert Mehrabian, a professor at UCLA, has done extensive research on this and wrote in his book Silent Messages that communication is 55% body language, 38% tone of voice and 7% what you actually say.

Before I began meditating, I was a good listener. As a former TV reporter, I had trained my mind to focus on each word someone uttered, so I could quote back whatever that person said. But I had room for nothing else. I missed paying attention to people’s facial expressions, pitch, eye contact, gestures and more. And so I missed clues to what was personal to someone or professional and data about what was important to someone and what wasn’t.

Because you reduce the thoughts in your mind when you meditate, you gain intuition and begin noticing subtle signals from people, such as when they look away, start playing with their hair or speak with a more emotional tone. Now my gut picks up on these cues and I sense, for example, when someone is sharing a key point. There’s a term for this: emotional awareness. (In their Harvard Business Review case study “Nonverbal Communication in Negotiation,” Michael A. Wheeler and Dana Nelson write about how much communication is not conscious — I add that our input on the listener’s side is subconscious, too. The meditator picks up on things you couldn’t tangibly explain.)

This information is negotiation gold. Nonverbal signals convey crucial information. In an often-cited study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, Michael Argyle concludes that nonverbal channels are 12.5 times more powerful than the verbal channel.

There’s another benefit, too. When negotiating in the past, I focused on getting a particular result. This had the unfortunate effect of making whomever I was negotiating with feel backed into a corner. I left her with nowhere to go, which is a good way to make someone want to rebel or just say, “No!” As written in How to Negotiate, “No one likes to feel helpless.” This builds up resentment that can hurt a deal and a relationship in the long term.

This changed when I began studying Buddhism, the philosophy behind my meditation practice. Buddhists place far less importance on outcomes than your average Westerner. I find the more I meditate, the more I focus on saying what’s important to me and being honest, rather than simply getting what I want. What does this mean? Over time, as you meditate, you become less attached to outcomes. And the people you interact with and negotiate with feel less cornered and more free to make a decision that can be mutually beneficial.

Meditation makes you more empathetic, too, which transforms how you relate to people while negotiating. I now go into a negotiation so focused on the process, I often find myself saying (and believing) that I only want to do win/win deals. I encourage the person I’m negotiating with to walk away if the deal doesn’t feel right. When people believe you’re looking out for their best interest, that level of trust helps to close deals, especially if it’s a long-term partnership. As Professor Deepak Malhotra writes in the Harvard Business Review piece “6 Ways to Build Trust in Negotiations, ”establishing trust is critical to achieving success in any negotiation.”

These skills — building trust, focusing on right actions and words, not fixating on outcomes and reducing the clutter in your mind, have a powerful impact on your ability to negotiate. I also believe they make you lighter overall, more carefree and joyous. Perhaps that, too, makes you more pleasant to negotiate with and to work with, too. I’m not perfect on this front, but I’m on my path. And I’m curious to hear if you meditate, have you noticed an impact on your negotiation skills? Please let me know what you’ve discovered in comments below.

Dina Kaplan is founder of The Path. The Path teaches meditation for the modern mind.
Follow the path on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.

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