Tension is the Key to a Successful Negotiation

By Bradley Chowles June 28, 2021 | 3 min read

As humans, we’re naturally averse to dwelling within a state of tension — it’s uncomfortable, it makes us feel vulnerable, and it often leads to behavior that dissipates as much of the tension as possible. Managing and overcoming this discomfort is actually what sets the world’s best negotiators, athletes, and poker players apart from the rest. They’re not only at ease in a state of tension, they thrive in it: using it to their advantage in a calm and collected fashion.

But tension is an inevitable part of any negotiation process. It’s only natural: if both parties are looking to gain at the expense of the other, the moment those desires clash there’s bound to be a degree of conflict and discomfort. Just as you can’t have your cake and eat it too, pardon the cliche, it can be difficult to retain an item of value while simultaneously trading it for something else.

In this blog post, let’s take a closer look at the role of tension in successful negotiation — and why it’s such a powerful tool in your arsenal.

Revisiting the three dimensions of negotiation

If you can recall from our previous articles, there are fundamentally three dimensions to every negotiation: the collaborative dimension, the competitive dimension, and the creative dimension. The competitive dimension is defined by self-interest, the collaborative dimension is defined by building a relationship, and the creative dimension is about finding innovative ways to break impasses and find a mutually beneficial outcome.

The best negotiation outcomes — which satisfy needs on both sides of the aisle and lay the foundation for a fruitful long-term partnership — tend to stem from activity in the creative dimension. And what’s the best way to steer a negotiation into this creative dimension when you find yourself stuck in an overly competitive or collaborative situation? You got it: tension.

Embracing healthy tension for creative breakthroughs

The best negotiators understand that it’s not their job to dissipate tension as it arises. Rather, it is their job to manage that tension in such a way that enables both parties to meet their fundamental needs in a creative breakthrough.

This is only possible when you’re able to identify positive, healthy tension as the opportunity that it is. We’re obviously not talking about negative or unhealthy tension, which is usually the result of arrogance, rigidity, and negotiating in bad faith. Healthy tension, on the other hand, is a positive force that motivates both parties to put in the leg work and uncover innovative solutions they wouldn’t have otherwise considered.

One of the most effective ways to build healthy tension in a negotiation process is to strategically engage in one of five negotiation behaviors, depending on which dimension you are currently operating within. Take a look at our “5 Types of Negotiation Behaviors” post to learn more about each of these behaviors in detail.


RED BEAR Negotiation Company is a global performance improvement firm dedicated to maximizing the profitability of the agreements negotiated with customers, suppliers, partners, and colleagues. If you’re interested in empowering your sales team with world-class negotiation skills, contact us for more information.


One of the first steps to becoming a master negotiator is to learn 5 key negotiation behaviors and how they work within the 3D Negotiation Model to your benefit.
The main goal of using negotiation tactics by a customer is to fundamentally alter the negotiation in the customer’s favor. Negotiation tactics are tricky for a reason but can be handled with ease...

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