Dealing With Aggression: 3 Experts Share Their Best Tips

Not everyone comes to the negotiation table focused on being constructive, and creative value. Your are bound to encounter negotiators who behave aggressively towards you.

Some behave aggressively because they are overwhelmed by stress and anxiety, while others use aggression as a tactic to obtain what they want. Either way, there are strategies you can use to stand your ground and save the negotiation.

In this week’s newsletter, three Master Negotiators share their wisdom on how to deal with aggressive negotiators.

Have a Structured Approach

Michele Williams
Trust Scholar, Professor and Speaker, Negotiation Coach, Inclusive Leadership Advisor
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Professor Michele Williams, Tippie College of Business, University of Iowa, has taught negotiations to executives, startups, MBAs and undergraduates at leading schools of management for over 15 years. She speaks widely on factors affecting women as negotiators, leaders, and business owners.

When you have to deal with an aggressive negotiator or one who is prone to anger, you may feel trapped or start to avoid them at the expense of your own career performance. But what can you do? Here are 3 Tips:

1. Negotiate the Process 1st

Rather than jumping right into the topic of your next meeting or negotiation, invite your colleague to set ground rules for your discussions. Call on values of respect and professionalism. It may help to seed this idea with other team members and get them on board as allies before the discussion begins.

2. Change the Context

People may feel more comfortable displaying their anger in a 1:1 meeting behind closed doors. Holding the meeting in a more public place or inviting other team members or coworkers to the discussion may be enough to reign in bad behavior.

3. Try to Understand their Perspective

Sometimes people display anger when they are feeling afraid, hurt, or taken advantage of. Other times people have something stressful going on in their lives that has nothing to do with you but is reducing their self-control. Taking time to actively listen and ask about the other person’s feelings and perception of the situation may open the door to explaining the potential of working together to solve the problem at hand. The other side may be assuming that you have conflicting views. Confronting their bias and convincing them to step to the same side of the table is not easy, but it may allow both of you to think more creatively and produce an optimal outcome.

Get in the right mindset

Susan Borke
Negotiation Trainer, Negotiation Strategist, Speaker
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Susan Borke’s years of experience at CBS and National Geographic provided extensive opportunities to hone the negotiation techniques she has been teaching to business professionals for over 30 years. With a background in legal and financial administration, she understands the value of successful negotiating skills.

When negotiating with someone you find aggressive, you have choices other than the reflexive reactions of fight, flight, or freeze.

Nonviolent Communication is a way of approaching interpersonal interactions that have proven highly effective for over 30 years. The keystones of NVC are Nonjudgmental Observing, Naming Feelings, Identifying Needs, and Making Requests. Like with an oxygen mask on an airplane, you need to use NVC on yourself before using it to assist others. The first steps are to observe rather than judge and name your feelings accurately.

Non-judgmental Observing requires you to focus on what you see rather than what you think about it. For example, you may observe your counterparty is talking loudly or making threats. Labeling that individual as “aggressive” is a judgment. You can respond to what you observe; your judgments may be mistaken. For example, if someone has a hearing impairment, they may speak at a higher volume.

Naming feelings requires that you really understand yourself. We often only think in terms of four to six emotions. Find a Feelings Wheel and practice naming your emotions with greater precision and accuracy. Being aware of your emotions helps you break the reflex of reacting to them.

Start with these two steps; there are many resources available to you if you are interested in learning more about Nonviolent Communication.

Reframe the Situation

Erin Gleason Alvarez
Independent Arbitrator, Mediator & Negotiation Consultant
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An attorney for over 20 years, Erin Gleason Alvarez now serves arbitrator, mediator, and negotiation consultant for complex commercial disputes. She is a member of the CPR Institute Panel of Distinguished Neutrals, Resolute Systems New York and National Mediation Panels, and the American Arbitration Association Commercial Arbitration Panel. Ms. Gleason is also the founder of Take Charge Negotiations®, which provides individual and corporate training on mindfulness in negotiation.

People act aggressively in negotiations for a variety of reasons. Perhaps it’s simply who they are, or how they choose to show up in this world. Or they might use aggression as a tactic to get the upper hand in a discussion, or to intimidate the people negotiating with them. Here’s how I coach people to deal with this (it’s what I do, too).

When others act with aggression, anger, or in otherwise combative ways in a negotiation, it is important to remember the following:

  • Their actions are not a reflection on you. So, don’t take it personally.
  • Stay focused. Overly aggressive or intimidating behavior is merely a distractor. Remember why you are at the negotiation table and what you are ultimately working towards.
  • Words don’t have to fill every moment of the negotiation. It’s often helpful to allow some silence into these conversations because it gives you space to breathe and digest what’s happening.

Aggression is a fairly poor choice of negotiation tactics, and a way of actually ceding power to the others involved in the negotiation. It’s more often a show of weakness than anything else. So, if people are acting aggressively in your negotiations, train yourself to remember that this is something that can work in your favor.

Also keep in mind that it’s okay to take a break from the conversation to re-group. You may need more, or different, people to join the discussion for it to be truly productive.

We can’t control how other people act, but we can control how we react to them. Be careful not to let aggressive negotiators take your attention away from what is really important for you at the end of the day.

Where do we go from here?

This week’s Master Negotiators provide a rich view on aggression in negotiation contexts. Whether you are a student, a recent grad, or a seasoned manager, I hope their testimonies will help you deal with aggressive negotiators.

To conclude this article, I want to thank the three Master Negotiators for contributing their best advice on how to deal with aggression. Please follow them on LinkedIn to read more about them.