Alpha personalities are important to getting things done, but not at your expense. When a bully throws a punch, many people suggest hitting back. As an adviser to Fortune 500 senior executives and CEOs who need guidance in all sorts of negotiations, I can say that is not always the best advice.
Think of it this way: Would you try to calm down a child throwing a temper tantrum by throwing one of your own? Of course not, and in business, this tactic not only escalates the situation, but also makes the deal less likely, or worse yet, less likely to be fair for you. Remember, most bullies are going to be better at punching than you. The good news is that negotiating isn't about throwing punches.
It's about assessing the situation, asserting yourself and remembering that people who have strong alpha personalities likely have more blind spots than you. Typically, those with a "bullying" style tend to surround themselves with associates who don't give them the full truth. This puts you at an advantage, but it's important to implement winning strategies ahead of time.
Don't punch, praise: When a bully hits you, they expect you to do one of two things: quit or hit. Do neither. Instead, be kind and compassionate. Pay a bully a compliment and watch what happens. It will likely throw their forward momentum off. Remember, it's critical to not take the bait and get into a fight. You'll get much further if the bully perceives you to be aligned with him or her. You don't have to like them; you just can't let them think you don't like them.
Know the landmines: Knowing the emotional hooks of the person you are negotiating with-as well as your own-gives you power. If you anticipate what may make you, or them, reactive, you can anticipate and prepare how to respond. It also buffers the emotional impact. An example of an emotional landmine is if someone talks down to you or always talks over you. Don't take that personally. Take that as an opportunity to manage yourself and get ready to redirect the conversation.
Fight with facts, not feelings: Bullies often will attack you personally and make irrational arguments based on feeling and can often be defensive. Sometimes if you want to negotiate successfully, you need to let some things go so you can focus. Use the broken record technique. Regardless what is thrown at you, stay the course, stick with the facts and repeat your point of view. Bullies are used to short fights, not long fact-based dialogues, and will likely falter.
Find the opening: In most negotiations, there is an opening. An opening is a moment for a turning point in the conversation. It's not about pushing. It's about aligning. Try to connect something they are saying to something that is important to you. Alphas tend to show their cards in these moments.
Show your subtle strength: The last thing you want to do is communicate weakness. You don't have to yell, you don't have to be combative, but you do need to show them you are strong. The way to do this is to demonstrate little hints of your confidence and strength. In a professional way, interrupt the person to make a point, disagree with the person or ask a question to redirect the conversation.
For example, say, "Let me offer a slightly different way to look at this." Ultimately, the most powerful negotiating strategy, regardless of the situation or the person, is to be willing to walk away. Although this might not always be feasible, create options ahead of time and don't get emotionally attached to any one of them. Options give you leverage. Do your homework and let the other side know you have plenty. If you are able to walk away, the bully has nothing to charge.
The writer is managing partner of On Point Advising Inc & contributor at
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