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Combative Negotiators: Part One – Identifying Bullies

November 4, 2011

Human beings were made to survive in a tough world. Aggression has long been a precondition for survival and, according to the process of natural selection, only the strong survive. Combative behavior has been recognized and accepted as a natural, albeit emotional, response to personal conflict for centuries. Increasingly, however, combative behavior has become more and more prevalent in response to professional conflict— especially within negotiations.

In the first part of this blog series, I’ll show you how to identify combative behavior at the negotiating table. Next week I’ll conclude with tips on how to deal with these difficult types.

Novice negotiators might think that they can easily identify combative behavior at the negotiating table, but PowerBargainers know that combat is often cleverly disguised. It may present itself  through aggressive communication, threats, or a lack of interest in listening to the other party. Combat also occurs when the other party listens carefully but masks his true intentions to give the only the impression that he wants to understand. Before showing his true colors, this wily negotiator will have made sure that the other party has already revealed too much.

Don’t get caught in a combative negotiator’s trap. First, it’s essential to recognize that the combative negotiator intentionally aims to make you feel insecure and inferior – he knows that a stressed counterpart will more likely flee or give in. A typical combative negotiator makes expensive demands without verifying or explaining them. You might find yourself lacking important information, but nevertheless forced to make a decision because you are put under  pressure. The culmination of these factors may make you feel insecure in your power position. In addition to tough demands, his behavior likely leads you to view him as aggressive or manipulative, thus weakening the overall trust in the negotiation. Consequently, relations between you both deteriorate rapidly and the entire negotiation may be at risk.

Combative negotiators are really nothing more than bullies and their ruse can indeed fluster even the most skillful negotiators. Sometimes their tactics lead negotiators to see only two solutions: to cave in, or to get angry and end the negotiations after you’ve had enough of the games.

Next week you’ll read about how to counteract combative tactics, but in order to do that, you need to be able to recognize the symptoms:

• One-way communication: Numerous arguments, demands, and threats that are often difficult to verify are presented. Questions are met with silence and argumentation is based on orchestrated facts or lies. The mode of communication is usually aggressive and the messages are terse.

• Provocations: The combative negotiator uses arguments to provoke and stress out the other party. Personal attacks and disparaging remarks are frequently used.

• Hidden intentions: This is perhaps the combatant’s most lethal weapon. The intentions behind the negotiation are kept secret. The non-combatant is duped in order to gain trust, to obtain information, and to get him to lower his guard. The negotiator may initially be very pleasant; however, combatants are often wolves in sheep’s clothing.

 Have you seen these happen in your negotiations? Share your stories – and how you handled it – in the comments. Then, be sure to come back next week to learn some effective strategies to one-up combative negotiators.

 This post is excerpted from Keld Jensen’s upcoming book Power Bargaining: Adding Value to Commercial Negotiations to be published in 2012.

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