How Should Negotiators Respond To Threats?

Negotiators need to know how to react when they are threatened
Negotiators need to know how to react when they are threatened
Image Credit: Claudio Gennari Follow

So a negotiation is a business discussion that occurs between two adults, correct? Well, in a lot of cases this is a correct statement. However, there are times when things can become heated during a negotiation. When one side feels as though they are not getting their way, they start to look for ways that they can convince you to change your mind. One tool that they have available to them besides using different negotiation styles and negotiating techniques is to threaten you. If they decide to do this, how should you react?

How To React To A Threat During A Negotiation

When the other side hits you with a threat, you need to decide how you want to respond. One option that you have is to strike back at them using a counter threat. However, the smart people who study how we negotiate tell us that this is generally not a good idea.

The reason that using a counter threat is a poor idea is because they raise the emotional temperature of a negotiation. Doing this will get you even further off track. Instead, what you want to do immediately after hearing a threat is to call for a break. Rescheduling talks for another day will give both sides time to cool down and consider their options. This will give you time to consider three negotiation questions that deal with threats.

Question 1: Are They Likely To Follow Through With Their Threat?

When a threat is issued, you have a decision to make. In the heat of the moment, negotiators sometimes issue threats that they later regret. If it’s clear that someone has no intention of following through with a threat, and if they seem contrite or embarrassed about it, you might choose to help them save face by ignoring the threat entirely.

Something else that you should be aware of is public threats. When the other side threatens you publicly, the threat might not be intended for you at all. Rather, they may be trying to save face with others inside or outside the negotiation.

Question 2: Sometimes A Threat Should Not Be Ignored

Not all threats are just idle words. Sometimes the other side may really mean what they are telling you. If you think a disgruntled supplier intends to follow through on his threat to smear your company’s reputation, you need to take steps to defuse the situation. As a negotiator, you need to understand that even if a threat appears to be a bluff, the other side may be communicating a very real need to be heard and understood.

This is when active-listening skills will help you get to the heart of the matter. The first thing that you will want to do is to paraphrase back to your counterpart what they said to you as accurately as possible. Paraphrasing tells the other party how their message came across and gives them the chance to clarify or amend it in case you are interpreting it incorrectly. In addition, when you are faced with a difficult counterpart, “naming the game” in this manner – signaling that you are aware that you were just threatened – sometimes is sufficient to defuse a threat.

The next thing that you are going to want to do is to probe the other party’s point of view by asking open-ended questions. Because inquiry challenges the other party to reveal the reasoning behind the threat, it could uncover misunderstandings and allow you to work together to “change the game,” steering talks in a more collaborative direction.

The third and the potentially most difficult step in active listening is to acknowledge the emotions behind the other side’s message – what they are not saying. Simply talking about the emotions that fuel threats can ease tensions and get you back on common ground.

Question 3: Ask What Did I Do To Trigger The Threat?

When someone threatens you during a negotiation, they are clearly upset with you. Using active listening may lead you to recognize that legitimate complaints and concerns underlie the other side’s threat. When you voice these concerns, you show the other side that you care about and understand their perspective, while also making your own position stronger. Of course, when you’ve wronged someone, it’s not enough to promise to address the situation. You’ll have to follow through in a timely manner.

A final note: All of this advice assumes that the threat issuer is a reasonable but frustrated person who wants to cooperate with you. If threats seem to be a standard tactic in a particular negotiator’s playbook, thoroughly investigate your alternatives to dealing with them.

What All Of This Means For You

When you are preparing for a principled negotiation, you spend your time researching what will be negotiated, who will be doing the negotiating, and anything else that you believe is relevant. However, if during the course of the negotiations the other side becomes so frustrated with how things are going that they resort to threating you, you’ll need to react. Before you react, you’ll want to consider how you’d like to answer three key questions.

The first question that you have to ask yourself when somebody threatens you during a negotiation is just how likely are they to follow through with their threat? They may have just gotten carried away or they may just be making the threat as a public display. Sometimes when somebody threatens us, we should not ignore their threat. You need to use your active-listening skills to let them know that you heard them and find ways to defuse the situation. You also have to ask yourself what you did to trigger this situation. You may be the reason for the threat, and if so you’ll need to promise to address the situation.

Threats are generally not a part of a standard negotiation. However, if the discussions become tense and if the other side feels as though they have no other options, it is possible that they may feel a need to threaten you. Should this happen, you need to know how to respond to the threat. Negotiators need to understand that threats can be a part of a negotiation; however, we need to learn how to defuse them so that we can keep working towards a deal that both sides can live with.

– Dr. Jim Anderson Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Negotiating Skills™

Question For You: When the other side threatens you during a negotiation, should you try to ignore it and just go on?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

So first off – congratulations! The last negotiation that you were involved in went very well. You were able to use your negotiation styles and negotiating techniques to get a deal that you feel proud of and you’ve been congratulated by everyone you know for conducting a professional negotiation. Right about now you are probably feeling a real sense of pride. Now it’s time for you to move on to your next negotiation. You feel that this next negotiation should go as well as the last one did. However, is this feeling going to work in your favor or is it going to work against you?