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Combative Negotiators: Part Two – Responding to Bullies

November 14, 2011

Last week we explored the various signals that combative negotiators often send. Now that you’re able to identify a combative negotiator, you need to know how to respond to those childish antics.

Above all else, keep calm and do not let yourself be provoked into hasty emotional reactions. If you feel like the pressure on you is getting to be more than you can handle, take a break. Forcing yourself to continue will only put you and your team at risk of falling directly into a trap. Before you choose a response, analyze the reason for the combative stance. Is it conscious or merely a subconscious defense reaction on the part of the other party? Are you overreacting to his choice of words or tone of voice? Are you frightened by his harsh demands?

Once you identify the reason behind the combat, you’re ready to choose your response:

1. Silence: First respond with silence. Don’t let your emotions govern your actions. Even if the other party is wrong, avoid confrontation. In this way, you can keep clear of the attack-and-defense spiral of gambits and countermoves that deteriorates negotiations and causes relations to fall apart over a very short period of time. Remember that the combative negotiator is powered by adrenaline. He will not listen to you until he has finished speaking.

2. Questions: Ask questions to test the other party and  make clear the dangers of continued combat. Break the pattern of one-way communication. If you can initiate two-way communication, you’re on your way back to productive negotiations.

3. Delay: If your silence or questions do not yield the desired result, you can delay the negotiation. Suggest scheduling another session and make it clear to the other party that you think it is counterproductive to continue negotiating at the moment. This is a method that lives up to one of my favorite adages: be mild in manner, but firm in substance.

4. Substitution: Sometimes two people just aren’t suited to work together. Switch negotiators if you suspect any personal conflicts or if you think the personal chemistry isn’t working you and the current delegate.

5. Naïveté: Pretend to be naive. Intentionally misunderstand, ask counter-questions, and ask for the other party to repeat all their arguments. Not only will you wear the other delegation down, but you might even get them to see their absurdities by having them reiterate their argument over and over again. Although this can be effective, I do not recommend that this be your first response to bullying tactics. Remember, I advocate trust – and honesty has a lot to do with that.

6. Combat: If your own position is strong and if you are able to pay the price, fight fire with fire. Be combative! A warning, though: this is only recommended after you have tried all other strategies and only if you do not want anything to do with him in the future. Combative negotiations may lead to a positive short-term outcome, but they don’t do much for long-term relations.

 Sometimes combative negotiations are simply unavoidable. If you find yourself in the middle of one, take a deep breath and remember that you have the skills needed to come out on top. Every negotiator is different—what works for your delegates may not be your preferred course of action, and that’s okay. The key to your success lies in remembering that, unlike your combatant, you do not need to rely on harsh words or underhanded tactics to succeed. Use your knowledge of combative characteristics and techniques to counteract combat and you will undoubtedly have the upper hand in any negotiation.

Have you personally dealt with a combative negotiator? Did your tactics yield a positive result? Feel free to share your experience and how you handled it in the comments section.

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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