Top Tips for Negotiating with Screamers
“What should you do if your counterpart loses it and starts yelling? Does reason and rationality even matter at that point?” Almost all of us have faced this issue, which was raised by a recent virtual training program attendee.
What should you do?
1. Don’t escalate – but don’t back down either
Our first instinct may be to scream back. After all, we don’t want to give the impression we can be intimidated. On the other hand, yelling back will almost certainly lead to an unending cycle of escalation – and getting back on track will then be exponentially more difficult.
You don’t want to back down, though, as that would incentivize your counterpart to keep it up.
There’s a third way. Calmly wait until your counterpart has finished, look your counterpart in the eyes and, in a straightforward and professional fashion – perhaps even by lowering your voice – suggest that continuing at that time would almost certainly be counterproductive. Take a break instead.
Keep in mind that this works if your counterpart lost it but may not be the best move if your counterpart is just venting a bit or expressing their feelings in a very emotional way.
2. Go to the Balcony
William Ury, co-author of the classic Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In and author of Getting Past No: Negotiating In Difficult Situations, recommends in similar circumstances that you then “Go to the Balcony.”
Step back from the negotiation, like looking at it from the balcony, so you can more even-handedly evaluate the situation and determine your next best step.
During this time, I would recommend you do at least three things. One, evaluate possible underlying strategic reasons your counterpart acted that way. Are they trying to act “tough” in front of their client? Or perhaps you just asked them a question that highlights their major weakness, and they’re trying to distract you.
It might also be a visceral reaction to something you said or did, consciously or unconsciously. Did you hit one of their hot buttons or did they somehow feel cornered and lash out as a result?
Explore all these possible justifications. None, of course, make their behavior acceptable. But understanding the motivation or trigger will help you determine how to effectively proceed.
Two, strengthen your leverage by developing a better Plan B (what you will do if you don’t reach agreement – an agreement being your Plan A). You might decide that your Plan B is better than even dealing with a screaming counterpart.
And three, assuming you haven’t done so already, reach out to folks who have negotiated with your counterpart previously. Find out a) if it’s a pattern, b) their analysis of why it’s being done, and c) what they have done to counter it. You may not have to reinvent the wheel.
3. Negotiate Rules of the Road
It’s neither okay nor helpful to negotiate with someone who consistently yells or loses it. To prevent this in the future, your first step back at the table – after your break – should be to negotiate ground rules for negotiating that include no yelling or screaming, mutual respect, etc.
Your company or law firm might even have some codes of conduct that serve as a basis to engage. Also research some possible standards or benchmarks to assist in this negotiation, as these tend to depersonalize the environment.
One final note: yelling or screaming doesn’t change the fundamental power in a negotiation – unless you let it. In fact, this behavior is often a reflection of a parties’ powerlessness.
In law school we were told an old saying attributed to Carl Sandburg. He said “if the facts are against you, argue the law. If the law is against you, argue the facts. If the law and the facts are against you, pound the table and yell like hell.”
Remember this the next time your counterpart yells like hell.
Latz’s Lesson: Don’t scream at negotiation screamers. Instead, take a break, figure out what’s really going on, then negotiate future ground rules.
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Marty Latz is the founder of Latz Negotiation, a national negotiation training and consulting company that helps individuals and organizations achieve better results with best practices based on the experts’ research. He also has two bestselling books Gain the Edge! and The Real Trump Deal: An eye-opening Look at How He Really Negotiates. He can be reached at 480.951.3222 or Marty@LatzNegotiation.com.