Your negotiation journey - part seven: dealing with aggression

Updated: Sep 23

Constantin Papadopoulos is a freelance B2B marketing & sales consultant.

The following nine techniques/skills will improve the outcome of your negotiations. While these techniques are simple and effective, your negotiation success will come from applying them regularly. The best part of these techniques is that you can use them in your daily life. So let's review the seventh technique.


Dealing with aggression

There are a few tricks in diffusing tension during a negotiation. The combination of the Kremlin school of Negotiation and FBI negotiation techniques will provide a broad scope of options. The first two techniques come from the latter, the last five from the former:

1. Mirroring

“Mirroring, also called isopraxism, is essentially imitation. It’s another neurobehavior humans display in which we copy each other to comfort each other. It can be done with speech patterns, body language, vocabulary, tempo, and tone of voice. [...] While mirroring is most often associated with forms of non-verbal communication, especially body language, as negotiators a “mirror” focuses on the words and nothing else. Not the body language. Not the accent. Not the tone or delivery. Just the words. [...] for the FBI, a “mirror” is when you repeat the last three words (or the critical one to three words) of what someone has just said. [...] By repeating back what people say, you trigger this mirroring instinct and your counterpart will inevitably elaborate on what was just said and sustain the process of connecting.”

While facing an intense situation, here are four steps to diffuse confrontation:

1. Use the late-night FM DJ voice

2. Start with I’m sorry

3. Mirror & Silence. At least four seconds, to let the mirror work its magic on your counterpart

4. Repeat

2. Labeling

“Labeling is a way of validating someone’s emotion by acknowledging it. Give someone’s emotion a name and you show you identify with how that person feels. [...[ Labeling is a simple, versatile skill that lets you reinforce a good aspect of the negotiation, or diffuse a negative one. [...] it has very specific rules about form and delivery. [...] The first step to labeling is detecting the other person’s emotional state. [...] The trick to spotting feelings is to pay close attention to changes people undergo when they respond to external events. Most often, those events are your words.

Once you’ve spotted an emotion you want to highlight, the next step is to label it aloud. [...] no matter how [labels] end, labels almost always begin with roughly the same words: It seems like…, It sounds like…, It looks like… [...] when you phrase a label as a neutral statement of understanding, it encourages your counterpart to be responsive. [...] The last rule of labeling is silence. Once you’ve thrown out a label, be quiet and listen. [...] a label’s power is that it invites the other person to reveal himself.”


3. Eye contact

Eye contact should be used:

  • At the start of proceedings, where it is important to establish eye contact and demonstrate your emotional strength.

  • If you need to show your opponent that you know what they are playing at and it’s not going to fly.

  • If you want to deliberately want to stir up negotiations.

4. Strength in indifference

How to contain and control manifestations of “need”:

  • When going into negotiations, it is very important to be able to answer two questions: “What will I do if they accept?” and “What will I do if they refuse?” [...] When you answer these questions for yourself, you bring your internal weighing scales into a neutral position: the “yes” stops outweighing the “no”.

  • Control your speech. When we feel a sense of “need”, we tend to speak faster and in a higher pitch.

  • Focus on what you can control: your voice, your way with words, your charm, your skills. Steer the negotiation process.

  • Pause. Pauses and even breaks are a very valuable tool in a negotiator’s arsenal.

5. Saying no
  • “Negotiation is the human effort to bring about agreements between two or more parties with all parties having the right to veto.”

o “Whenever you receive a proposal or request, ask yourself a few questions:

o “When making me this tempting offer or asking me to do this service, what do they actually want from me?”

o Does this conflict with my own interests?

o Will what they are offering me benefit me?

o Would it be worthwhile for me to accept such terms?

  • If the proposal isn’t worthwhile, just say “no”.”

6. Playing the host

Read here how we recommend playing the host. In a few bullet points:

  • A comfortable, relaxed position at the negotiating table.

  • Don’t rush to answer questions: clarify, ask counter-questions, and “get closer to the deer”.

  • Use pauses

7. Strength in your cause

“[...] confidence and a belief in your cause are your most important allies in negotiations. A negotiator who lacks confidence in their own cause [...] will scrabble around for lots of arguments, which they will then try to dump in front of their opponent in quick succession. They think that the more arguments they have, the better.”

“When preparing your argument, it is crucial that you choose only those arguments you believe yourself. During negotiations, try to use them sparingly, and only bring a new argument to the table when you have exhausted the preceding ones.”

I'm often asked how to prepare for difficult meetings and how to make sure that the right technique is used at the right time. The answer lies in the preparation. Know your counterpart and know the context. While I have had my share of unexpected reactions during a negotiation, all had a context that could be explained. If you're heading to a potential intense negotiation or meeting, re-read these techniques and decide in advance when you will use which one. Now that you know tricks to diffuse tensed negotiations, let's look at another trap, your counterpart may use - don't fall (too quickly) for yes.

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