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How to Stay Calm When Faced with an Aggressive Negotiator

Joe Shervell wrote this piece on behalf of The Gap Partnership (negotiation experts) for the NCDD blog. In what ways are these tips for dealing with aggressive negotiators applicable to group facilitators? Use the comments field to share what you think.

Negotiations can be a high-pressure situation, and it can be especially difficult if you are either annoyed or intimidated by conflict. Many people on the other side of the negotiation will use that to their advantage, to make you either lose your cool or back down on your demands. You don’t need to do either one of those things to make it through the negotiation, and, in fact, if you do, things break down very quickly. The most important thing is for you to keep your cool at all times, thus making it clear that your negotiator is the one failing to abide by the rules. Here are a couple tips on how you can deal with an aggressive negotiator without sinking to their level of aggression or being avoidant.

Assert your intentions early.
If they start getting aggressive, inform them that you will not respond to any attempted intimidation or bullying. The only way they will get what they want from you is by persuading you their case has merit or offering something you want in return. Say this firmly and confidently so that when they hear you, they believe you. This is a vital first step, showing them that their usual method will not work on you.

Stick to your limits.
If you have set a specific non-negotiable boundary, such as “we cannot afford to pay over X amount of dollars” or “I cannot work more than X hours a week,” then leave them as being non-negotiable. Determine before you go in what is up for negotiation and what is not. If the negotiator tries to get you to back down on one of those issues, remind them that you have already set out your standards and redirect back to what can be done about it.

Deal with lies carefully.
If you suspect your negotiator is being untruthful, perhaps overstating their need or understating their responsibility, do some gentle probing. Never accuse them of lying outright. Ask questions such as “Why?” or “How?” which will pull apart their arguments. If they voice a legitimate argument or concern that does actually hold up, that can be addressed, but don’t be fooled by statements like “It’s vital that I get this” when in actuality it’s not vital at all. When faced with uninformed data, a common tactic among successful politicians in debate is to state ‘that simply isn’t true’ rather than levelling accusations about lies.

Ask for verification.
This is similar to the above point: Ask them for details. If they claim they’ve gotten a better quote on something, request to see the results of the quote or speak with that individual to verify. Many times an aggressive negotiator will use “facts” that have never actually been verified but pose a vague threat. Your job is to separate these facts from the real ones so you know what is actually on the table. Deal with proven statistics instead of bowing to conjecture.

Assume the negotiator is rational and reasonable.
This doesn’t mean you have to take all his statements at face value, but it does mean that you should expect there to be a legitimate request beneath all of them. Approach the negotiation with an open mind. Be as respectful as you can while you speak with them, behaving as if you think they do indeed have a good case. Even that modicum of respect may tone down an angry negotiator, even if it doesn’t stop a devious one.

Control your airtime when you are speaking.
If your negotiator interrupts, calmly say, “Please let me finish, and then I would like to hear your response.” If he continues to interrupt, continue speaking right on through his interruptions, but do not raise your voice in anger or indicate you are losing your cool. Another option is to stand up when he interrupts you.

With these tactics in your pocket, you should be able to master any negotiation, staying calm and collected even while the other is not. With that skill, you will be able to negotiate anything you need.

NCDD Community
This post was submitted by a member of the NCDD community. NCDD members are leaders and future leaders in the fields of public engagement, conflict resolution, and community problem solving. You, too, can post to the NCDD blog by completing the Add-to-Blog form at www.ncdd.org/submit.

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