Everyone wants to be liked. We all feel a need to instinctively get along with other people. In most aspects of life, this is a positive thing.
But your instinctual need to be liked can be a real problem when negotiating. There's always a subtle temptation to ensure the other side likes you. The temptation becomes even stronger when you're dealing with an especially aggressive negotiator. The harder someone pushes, the more you may feel inclined to make concessions.
I've been in plenty of high-stakes negotiations throughout my career, and I've learned something crucial. You don't want to be liked in a negotiation. You want to be respected.
Here's how to gain respect when pitted against an aggressive negotiator.
The preparation you do before negotiating matters more than anything else. This is especially true when you're going up against someone aggressive who tries to make you uncomfortable by putting you on the spot.
Only about 10% of people I've come across are aggressive negotiators. And that's actually the problem. There are so few of them, you likely won't see them often. When you do, they probably make you uneasy.
Fall back on your research and preparation in this situation. You might feel out of your comfort zone, but that's when you need to be doubly conscious of using all the right techniques and approaches.
As much as possible, you should create some rules for yourself.
If this happens (X), then do that (Y). If a person is very aggressive or shouting, then forcefully ask for a pause and take a break.
You need to make these rules beforehand because you won't have time in the moment.
Don't be afraid to call for a timeout or take a break. And make sure you have other people in the room who are examining the issues from different perspectives.
Ultimately, preparation is everything.
Recognize The Tactics
If you've never seen a good aggressive negotiator in action, your first experience can be intimidating. I once went into a negotiation with a colleague, Matt. We were up against a very aggressive negotiator, and after a few minutes, Matt's face was as white as sheet. He looked at me and said, "Oh my God, it's over."
In reality, it hadn't even started yet.
When you first encounter this type of negotiating style, it can feel very lopsided. You aren't used to it. But if you can recognize what's happening, you have a chance to calm down, examine the situation, and use it to your advantage.
Capitalize On Aggression
The best aggressive negotiators are very forceful and very clever. But most aren't actually good aggressive negotiators--it takes much more ability to be a skilled aggressive negotiator.
Aggressive types are projecting an image of what they think a negotiator should be, and they end up coming off as irritating or egotistical. These people like to be aggressive with deadlines and threats, but they don't have a strong grasp on the underlying fundamentals of the negotiation. Aggression is their entire strategy.
If you stay calm, you can take advantage of the situation.
During one negotiation, the lead negotiator from another company that we were doing a deal with called me in the middle of the night. They demanded an answer and tried to get concessions from us. But we didn't let it rattle us. We just hung up on them. When we finished the deal, we realized we'd been able to work past their behavior by calling it out and ignoring it.
Remember, you can always slow down a negotiation by taking a break. It's up to you to stay mindful of the timing.
Stay conscious of what's happening and the tactics being used, so you don't react in an emotional manner. When you overreact, you play their game. Instead, focus on distinguishing the merits of the deal from the hostile behavior.
It's hard for beginners to handle aggressive negotiating tactics. A person's unexpected nature, combined with your need to be liked, can throw you off-balance. Rely on your team, rely on your preparation, and always stay conscious of what's happening. If you can do that, even the most combative negotiators won't be able to get the best of you.
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