Negotiating with bullies

Published: Feb 01 , 2013
Author: Gaëtan Pellerin

When facing a bully in negotiation, should you behave the same way?

Each of us has encountered this type of negotiator: A customer who threatens to give your business to a competitor if you don't give in to what he or she wants. A family member or close friend who behaves as a victim, playing the guilt card. Or an angry boss when the outcome is not what he or she expected.

If we had the choice, we'd like to avoid this type of interaction. But in most cases, we don't have that luxury.

When we're under pressure, competiveness and aggressiveness sometimes take over. Our brain works as a tunnel and we go back to our natural style. Because emotions and tensions rise, we tend to defend our point of view, persuade and argue, making it very difficult to negotiate a solution that works for both parties.

If you face a bully negotiator, be prepared. Understand your needs and limits so you can resist the temptation to accept a bad deal under pressure.  Find out why those on the other party behave like that by acknowledging and understanding the issues to which they're emotionally involved. Once these clear up, ask good questions to uncover their true concerns. Try to act as a consultant to understand their reality.

When it's time to package and re-package the proposal, be creative to suit the needs of those on the other side on your terms. They might throw irritant factors in the equation. But don't get emotional.  They're suspicious by nature.

So next time you face a bully negotiator, don't forget that competitive stances breed competitive stances, making it less likely that you'll get access to their needs, interests and inhibitions.

Remember people negotiate because they have an interest - even bullies.

Gaëtan Pellerin, Scotwork North America


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It never fails… I see smart, intelligent negotiators who have devoted lots of effort to prepare for their negotiation. They know their positions and limits. They’ve crafted a clever strategy. They have contingency plans. They’ve prepare their teams to work together. They know what they can concede and under what conditions they will concede them. But yet they fail to prepare for that one thing that derails all of their preparation…

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