This blog was originally published on 7/23/2018 and updated on 9/3/2020.
When you go into a negotiation that is likely to be combative, there are strategies you can adopt to overcome those points of contention.
Most of these strategies involve ignoring your natural inclinations to right the wrongs, explain the why, and promise to make sure your counterpart won’t have to experience the irritation ever again.
Keep reading to learn five strategies you can use to disarm the attack.
1. Don’t Get Defensive
The hardest part about moving an aggressive situation in your favor is trying not to go on the defensive.
As the saying goes, if you’re explaining, you’re losing. If you catch yourself saying something like Well, that’s because ... Our system works that way due to ... or anything similar wherein you’re explaining the purpose or process of why something happened, then you’re on the defensive. It’s that simple.
There will be times when you go into a negotiation knowing the other side will come out guns blazing. Maybe that’s their natural approach or maybe there’s bad blood between both parties that may or may not have been caused by you.
Overcome these aggressions by using Tactical Empathy™ to make sure your counterpart understands you see things from their perspective. Keep in mind that sometimes negotiations start off cordially and take a turn for the worse. When you use Tactical Empathy to govern your approach, you can operate with agility and adapt in the moment.
2. Know the Plan of Attack
Everyone you meet at the table has a plan of attack. If you go into a negotiation thinking the other side has only one reason for being there, you’ll learn the hard way that that’s never the case.
People come to the table for more reasons than what appears on the surface—even though financial gain may seem like the major motivator.
There is always more to be learned, though. For example, someone’s ego or pride might be driving their behavior. Have you ever noticed how—at least sometimes—a satisfied ego makes you feel better than a satisfied bank account?
When you take a real honest look at why the other side might take a particular position before they even start talking, you can start to form individual statements connected to their reasoning. Black Swan often refers to this tactic as a cold read.
3. Never Split the Difference™
There comes a point in every negotiator’s career when the other side presents an ultimatum. Take it or leave it!
On the surface, this might look like they’re trying to back you into a corner and force you to make a decision. In reality, it’s a sign that your counterpart is trying to make a deal. The other side wouldn’t propose a take-it-or-leave-it offer if they’ve already made up their mind to walk away.
In Never Split the Difference™, Chris Voss introduces the concept of an Accusation Audit™, wherein the negotiator beats their counterpart to their own justifications by summarizing their position before they have a chance to say it. Here, you’ll identify the potential negatives harbored by the other side and voice them proactively to defuse them before your counterpart has the opportunity to.
What does an Accusation Audit look like? Check out this interview Chris did with NPR a few years back. Essentially, Chris got a car salesperson to lower the price on a truck he wanted by being the first to say that the car was worth more than he was willing to pay.
4. Silence Is Golden
When you’re trying to persuade a counterpart to go against the status quo, follow your Accusation Audit with Dynamic Silence™ to let them say the words that will move the conversation forward.
You’ll have set up the silence with a summary of statements that encompasses your counterpart’s position. Silence is awkward; the other side will break it before you know it. Count in your head—one-one thousand, two-one thousand, three-one thousand—if you need to.
If silence is too uncomfortable for you, we’ll give you permission to use a Calibrated Question™ at the end of your Accusation Audit instead: How should we proceed from here? But you’ll have to stop talking after you ask it.
Bottom line? When disarming an attack, we can remove all inhibitions that cause a counterpart to want to defend a position by beating them to their own justifications.
As a side note, if you’re dealing with someone who comes across as aggressive but also seems like they are trying to be honest, use Labeling™ to identify that dynamic: It sounds like you are trying to be honest.
5. Disarming the Attack
When emotion is involved, the shortest distance between two points is almost never a straight line.
A great way to disarm the other side’s attack is by stating why they would hold a position in the first place. This is a counterintuitive way to inject reason into a conversation.
There have likely been times when you’ve thought They just won’t listen to reason or They are being unreasonable. You need to stay by considering your own contributions to the unreasonableness. When you describe someone as unreasonable, it’s probably because you’re frustrated that they won’t listen to you while you are busy explaining.
So stop explaining. See things from their perspective, make sure they understand that you are doing that, and great things can happen.