The Negotiator Magazine

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  1. Anger/Aggressive Behavior

            Negotiators occasionally resort to anger or aggressive tactics to convince their opponents of the seriousness of the circumstances involved. They raise their voice, pound the table, and occasionally walk out. They hope to intimidate less confident opponents to give in to their demands. Proficient negotiators almost never lose their tempers, since they recognize that such behavior would be likely to have a negative impact on their interactions. They thus employ this device in a carefully controlled manner. For example, when the Russian Premiere pounded on the table at the United Nations with his shoe, both of his feet still had shoes on them! This was not a spontaneous act, but a planned “tantrum” in which he used a shoe that he had brought into the chamber in his briefcase.

            When opponents seem to become angry, most persons respond in kind. This often causes problems as the battle escalates. The best way to respond to strategic “anger” is the opposite of what is expected. If opponents stand over someone and shout, those victims should remain calm and silent. They should listen carefully for verbal leaks that may inadvertently disclose important information. They should also look at their opponents as if they are acting like children. It is difficult to have a one-way harangue for long without becoming embarrassed. As the demonstrative parties feel ashamed of their behavior, they tend to make concessions in an effort to regain social acceptability.

  1. Walking Out/Hanging Up Telephone


            Some especially demonstrative negotiators like to walk out of in-person talks or slam down their telephone receivers.         This approach is similarly used to intimidate timid opponents into unplanned concessions. If others walk out or hang up rudely, negotiators should not follow them out the door or call them right back. Such behavior would only embolden them. They should instead be allowed to leave or to hang up without further interaction. They have to be taught that such tactics will not be rewarded. Once they realize that this approach is not working, they are unlikely to employ it again.

  1. Irrational Behavior


            I am frequently asked what to do when people have to deal with wholly irrational opponents. These individuals behave as if they belong in mental institutions in an effort to intimidate their opponents. It would be extremely rare for professional negotiators to encounter truly irrational opponents, because it is virtually impossible for such persons to survive in the competitive business world. Most persons who appear to be irrational are behaving like foxes. Their conduct is carefully controlled. Adversaries should ignore their strange demeanors and make their planned presentations. When the parties part company, their strangely behaving opponents will evaluate the offers they have received as logically as other negotiators.

  1. Brer Rabbit


            Joel Chandler Harris created the unforgettable character named Brer Rabbit. When he was caught by the fox, he asked to be skinned or to have his eyeballs  ripped out, as long as he was not flung in the brier patch. The fox tossed him in the brier patch and he escaped. This technique is based on reverse psychology. People employing this technique indicate a preference for Items 1 and 2, but suggest a willingness to accept Item 3 if they can’t have what they prefer to obtain. Item 3 is their real objective.

            This tactic can be especially effective against highly competitive win-lose opponents who are only satisfied when they think their counterparts have completely lost. They thus try to give others what they think those persons least with to obtain. If the Brer Rabbit approach is used effectively against them, they will force the other side to accept Item 3 instead of the other two things that side professes to want, causing their counterparts to leave with exactly what they wanted.


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February 2007