The most frequent answer people provide when asked what they don’t like about negotiations is: “I don’t like confrontation.” Though understandable, to a disciplined negotiator it’s a funny response, like someone saying, “I don’t like driving because I don’t like car crashes.”
When done properly, negotiations are not confrontational just as driving to the market should not produce a crash. But accidents do happen, and once in a while we will have to deal with a confrontational negotiator.
Don’t be afraid of that negotiator. Our job is to help him realize how potentially negative behavior will destroy or prevent value creation for the parties. As Deal Whisperers, we need to shape the negotiation environment from the start so the other party understands we are not here to fight, we are here to find common ground for agreement. Presumably, the other party has business goals, as do we, and we hope some of those goals are shared. We want to achieve an environment of creativity and collaboration to reach the best outcome possible for both parties. When the other party’s behavior puts the outcome of the negotiation at risk, we need to act.
In a recent negotiation, the lead negotiator found the parties on the other side to be very confrontational, snapping back at all of his questions and responses. The team took a break and talked about what was happening in the room. They decided to do something radical: they would ask the other party if something was wrong!
The negotiation lead returned to the room and said, “Before we get started again, I just wanted to ask if there is some issue we’re not getting on the table. Everyone seems very impatient when I talk and it feels like there is a lot of tension in the room.”
The negotiation lead said the reaction was like watching air come out of a balloon as the parties on the other side relaxed. The negotiations continued without any more harsh words.
By simply identifying to the other side the emotions he was sensing and asking what to do, the lead negotiator drained the room of tension. His goal was to understand what was driving the confrontational behavior and the way he asked was non-confrontational.
When the other side behaves in a strong, confrontational manner, don’t be afraid. Say to yourself, “That type of behavior will not help us close a deal. How do I change the behavior?” In doing so you empower yourself to rise above the other side’s emotions, and your own emotional reactions, so you can address the problem, not run from it.