Weathering The Storm: How to handle aggression during negotiations

how to handle aggressive behavior during negotiations

Over the course of your career as a negotiator, you’re likely to have the opportunity to work with counterparts who are respectful, collaborative, and with whom you get along fabulously.

You’re also likely to run into counterparts decidedly less pleasant to interact with.
They may be rude, condescending, insulting or aggressive. Or all four.
Being tasked with achieving a strong negotiation result for yourself or your organization is pressure enough – but bringing home a great agreement under those conditions can be especially draining and stressful.

Here’s our expert advice on navigating those situations.

Seek to understand
Understanding what’s prompting the aggressive behaviour in a counterpart isn’t easy, but it is incredibly helpful when protecting yourself from the barrage and not taking it too personally.

Perhaps your counterpart is feeling threatened, and this behaviour is their ego’s way of asserting itself. They may also be under severe pressure from their stakeholders to bring back a specific result, and this aggression is a tactic to put you on the back foot and gain the upper hand in the negotiations. Sometimes, a private matter may have reached the boiling point in their lives and you’re just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

It’s important to note that understanding the behaviour doesn’t mean condoning or accepting the behaviour. Tapping into your empathy, and understanding what may be driving this behaviour is important in preparing yourself for taking action to end it.

There are two options for how to handle an aggressive counterpart:

Ignore it
Chances are, your counterpart is looking for a reaction from you. Anger, frustration – even to match their own insulting behaviour. Don’t give it to them. Don’t react. Don’t respond. Just continue as if nothing is happening. If their aggression was a tactic to throw you off your game, they’ll see that it’s not working and stop. If their behaviour was an outburst, they’ll soon burn themselves out without any fuel being added to their flame. 

Call it out
Keeping your cool during a barrage of attacks from a counterpart is difficult. But keeping your cool and taking action to end their behaviour can be even more so. Your goal in calling out the aggression is to make their behaviour the issue. For example, you can do this by saying:

Can we all agree to try and diffuse this atmosphere?
Would you like me to call a break? You seem to have a lot of hostility towards me and I would like to resolve it.

Interrupting the behaviour like this gives both of you the opportunity to calm down, and address the issue head on, and then regroup to focus your efforts of achieving the best possible outcome in your negotiation.


advantageSPRING believes that people and personality are just as important as process when it comes to negotiating your firm’s best deals. Visit our training page to learn more about how our negotiation skills workshops can build capability within your teams.