Tough Guys Bull NegotiationWe have all encountered tough guys in our negotiating experiences. These are people who try to manipulate or exert pressure tactically – they are only in it for themselves. They may shout, make threats, play good cop/bad cop, issue ‘take or leave it’ ultimatums, or just plain lie.

It’s tempting to ignore these people, and not to descend to their level. That’s the professional thing to do, right? Wrong. If people are behaving badly then the best thing to do is to stop the negotiation and make their behaviour the issue. Since most bad behaviour is tactical, if you show that you know what is going on, then mostly the tough guy will drop the bad behaviour – there is no point continuing with it if the tactic has been rumbled.

So, if someone is shouting at you, you can say something like;

“Would it help if I shouted too?” or…

“I’m curious, what would you do if you walked into a negotiating meeting and someone shouted at you?” or…

“We believe in negotiating not shouting, shall we start again?”.

Any intervention like this will stop the bad behaviour – you don’t have to be as aggressive as they are being in order to make the point.

Equally, if someone is paying “good cop/bad cop” with you, then you can say something like “I’m confused, one of you is being very helpful about this and the other is being very tough. Let’s take a five minute break so you can agree a common approach and then we can start again”. That should sort it out.

If someone accuses you of being “unfair” or “unreasonable” when that is what they are doing themselves, you can ask them “what do you mean by “fair”?”. “Who is the judge of what is fair?” Fairness is not normally an objective concept. It is a subjective matter which some tough guys use to justify their own aggressive positions. Put them on the spot over this behaviour and they will back off.

If someone is lying to you, or aggressively complaining, or demanding that you improve your offer without revealing their position, or salami- slicing you (coming back for more continuously but in small slices), then you can use this approach to sort them out.

Make their behaviour the issue and the issue of their behaviour will go away.