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Combat Negotiation Hardball Tactics - Personal Attacks

Negotiation should be a problem solving exercise. But not all view it as such. There are many competitive negotiators out there. These individuals are driven by a single goal: winning, regardless of the costs. For them, the definition of "winning" is narrow and sometimes short-sighted. As someone seeking a mutually beneficial agreement, it's crucial to understand and effectively counteract such aggressive techniques.


Dart board with two darts one yellow and one red
Courtesy - Engin Akyurt, Unsplash

Understanding the Competitive Negotiator


What drives a competitive negotiator? Often, their mindset is molded by past experiences, industry norms, or personal ambitions. For them, negotiation is a zero-sum game, where one's gain is the other's loss. They tend to prioritize their interests, and their tactics can range from mild pressure to outright hostility.


Personal attack is a common weapon for these individuals. This is where he or she targets the individual attributes of the opponent rather than the arguments or positions they put forward. These could range from questioning one's intelligence to making snide remarks about one's appearance or character. These attacks are strategically used to distract, intimidate, and emotionally destabilize the opponent.


Reason for this Negotiation Hardball Tactic


We all have innate needs for acceptance, validation, and respect. When these are threatened, it naturally evokes a defensive response. The purpose of a personal attack in negotiation isn't just to hurt feelings but to get the attacked individual to shift from logical thinking to an emotional response, making them more prone to errors and hasty decisions.


The Amplified Impact in Sensitive Negotiations


When asking for a pay raise, things are already personal. Stakes are high. You're not just advocating for more money; you're placing a value on your worth, skills, and contributions. The fear of rejection or devaluation is already present. Introduce a personal attack into this mix, and it can severely shake one's confidence, making them question their worth and consequently weaken their negotiating position. So, be on your guard.


Strategies to Counter Personal Attacks

  1. Humor and Sarcasm: A dash of humor can often defuse tense situations. When faced with a personal remark, responding with light-hearted sarcasm or humor can convey that the attack didn’t rattle you. Example: If someone comments on your youth implying inexperience, you might respond, "Thanks for noticing! It's the new skincare routine."

  2. Re-focusing: When faced with an attack, a simple method is to acknowledge and swiftly bring the conversation back to the primary issue. This shows you're focused and won't be sidetracked.

  3. Persistence: The more you steer the conversation back to the primary topic, the clearer it becomes to the opponent that their tactic isn’t working.

  4. Being Assertive: This doesn't mean you need to match their aggression. Instead, stand firm on your points, express your views clearly, and set boundaries. A simple, "I'd appreciate it if we could maintain professionalism during this discussion," can set the tone.

  5. Reading Body Language: While words carry weight, body language often reveals the unspoken. A negotiator who's leaning in, maintaining eye contact, or has uncrossed arms might still be engaged despite a raised voice.

Recovery When Attacks Get Personal


Let’s face it – we're human. Sometimes, despite our best efforts, words sting. If you feel a personal attack has hit too close to home:

  1. Take a Break: There's strength in recognizing when you need a moment. Step away, breathe, and recalibrate.

  2. Seek Feedback: Post-negotiation, talk to a trusted colleague or mentor. Their perspective can offer clarity and validation.

  3. Self-reflection: Recognize the strategy behind the attack rather than seeing it as a truth.

  4. Reaffirmation: Remind yourself of your accomplishments, strengths, and the value you bring. This isn't just about ego-boosting but grounding yourself in reality against baseless accusations.

While we'd all prefer negotiations to be straightforward and civil, the reality is that personal attacks do occur. However, with the right strategies and a strong sense of self-worth, you can navigate these treacherous waters with grace, poise, and effectiveness. At the end of the day, remember that in the face of personal attacks, staying composed and focused on the issue at hand will always be your most powerful tool.


As a general rule, if you encounter hardball tactics during salary negotiations, it might be a red flag signaling the overall work environment and company culture. While it's essential to maintain professionalism in the face of such tactics, it's equally crucial to evaluate if this is the kind of workplace where you'd thrive. Should such aggressive tactics become evident, consider it a prompt to begin exploring alternative employment opportunities.


First, start with your LinkedIn profile. Use this free checklist to get you started!





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