What about Those That Threaten You during a Negotiation

What about Those That Threaten You during a Negotiation

In recent blogs I have addressed defensive rules in negotiations, and negotiating with those that don’t care.  This commentary addresses what you might want to consider with those that threaten you during a negotiation.   Threats can take many forms such as threatening to defame your reputation, going to court or walking out of the negotiation.  Regardless, when it happens your amygdala kicks in releasing chemicals and hormones that make you feel like you should fight, flight or freeze.  You only have about 6 to 10 seconds to catch yourself and not let the amygdala hijack your emotions.  What should you do?

First, do not let yourself get angry.  With practice you can actually do this.  That is prevent yourself from getting angry.   You may want to simply indicate that you are calling for a break and take one.  You need to collect your thoughts and help you, your team and the other party to focus on the real issues and interests.  The other side may be very frustrated, bluntly telling you where they are coming from or as with poker players they may simply bluffing.  Generally it is not possible to tell as a result of raising the threat.  

So what should you do?

If you took a break, return to the negotiation and be prepared to listen.  The energy may still be high and the other party may demonstrate strong emotions. In conflict resolution when I am truly a facilitative mediator and someone is venting strongly, a common technique is for the mediator to ask the party to “tell me more.”  The question is that simple, but the process can be wearing on the parties.  Why do this?  It allows the party to release their emotion.  Often the emotion is even stronger, but when through, the party is far calmer and is able to begin to focus on the problem. Then the party may be able share their interests.  That is the goal.   When you understand interests it is possible to move towards a negotiated solution.

It may be that the other party feels that he or she has had their say and is waiting for your reaction.  How should you react?   In general demonstrate listening by reflecting what you have heard and empathize with the other party.  Truly listen and rephrase the negative comments in neutral terms demonstrating that you truly are listening.

It may be that the other party has now calmed down and may apologize for the outburst and the threat. If that is the case, resume the negotiations.

No matter what do not reward the threatening behavior by either giving in or by attacking back.  This can lead to escalation and the end of the negotiation.  Be firm. Be fair.  Actively listen.  Ask probing open ended questions.  Try to determine how real the threat really is.  Has the other side truly thought this through?  Would they really do it?  Do you know your Best Alternative to the Negotiated Agreement (BATNA)?  Are you prepared to walk out of the negotiation if the other party cannot meet your BATNA?

From your questioning if you determine the other party indeed is bluffing, consider calling his or her bluff.  Many times in negotiations or mediations I have found that no matter how long of a time frame is set aside for the activity the real movement takes place in the last 15% of the time.  That is because each party has been feeling out the other party during the rest of the negotiation.  Having presented the facts on the issue(s) and the other party’s perception of the facts, explored the emotion behind the issue(s) and  the other party’s interests, now knowing their own interest and how they may have changed in the course of the activity, it is now possible to come to some form of resolution.

It was Rudyard Kipling in his poem If that told us in short that “

“If you can keep your head when all about you   

    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,  …


Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,   

    And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!”


Whether you’re a man or woman consider the historical context.  The point is that you need to keep your head and help the other members of your party to do the same regardless of the actions by the other party.   That is a real key for being able to focus on the issues, understand the emotion and uncover interests to come to a negotiated agreement.


So in summary,

  • Don’t let yourself become angry;
  • If necessary call for a break;
  • Stay focused on the problem;
  • Consider whether the other party is frustrated, telling you the way it truly is, or is bluffing;
  • Listen and reframe the negative comments in more neutral terms;
  • Respond with empathy to their concerns;
  • Realize that this is a process; and
  • Consider your original and potentially new interests learned during the process, their interests and determine if it is possible to reach agreement above your BATNA.

In this way you demonstrate your strength.

Michael Gregory, NSA, ASA, CVA, MBA is an international speaker, that helps organization de-escalate, resolve conflict and negotiate winning solutions. Mike is dedicated to making individuals, organizations, thought-leading entrepreneurs and executives more successful. Michael’s books, including The Servant Manager, How to Work with the IRS, Second Edition and his most recent book, now also available as an eBook, Peaceful Resolutions are available at this link.  On point resources are available online at www.mikegreg.com and check out the blog. Contact Mike directly at mg@mikegreg.com or call (651) 633-5311. 

About the author

Mike Gregory is a professional speaker, an author, and a mediator. You may contact Mike directly at mg@mikegreg.com and at (651) 633-5311. Mike has written 12 books (and co-authored two others) including his latest book, The Collaboration Effect: Overcoming Your Conflicts, and The Servant Manager, Business Valuations and the IRS, and Peaceful Resolutions that you may find helpful. [Michael Gregory, ASA, CVA, MBA, Qualified Mediator with the Minnesota Supreme Court]