Negotiation Tactic #98 – Acting the Bully

This tactic is one of several tactics we recommend you never use. Honest, credible negotiators don’t need to use this tactic. However, there will be times when this tactic will be used against you, so you need to be prepared with the counter.

Summary: Using unpleasant or insulting behavior to intimidate a counterpart.

One of the most challenging counterparts to deal with is a shark. Shark-like behaviors include yelling, screaming, swearing, or fist pounding. The tactics sharks and bullies utilize are usually successful because most people would rather give in and retreat—with their shirts still on their backs—than fight.

A team of union employees is negotiating a contract with management. One of the union representatives starts yelling at the management team whenever he does not appear to be winning a deal point. His behavior intimidates some of the managers, who are tempted to ask their representative to give in rather than having the union member continue making a scene.


The most effective way to deal with a shark is to get closer to him, not to retreat. If you show that you are not intimidated, his bullying behavior becomes useless.

In the scenario above, management’s representative has four possible counters:

  1. He could get up, walk out, and never come back.
  2. He could say something like “Most people who negotiate with us do not feel a need to yell, swear, or pound their fists. I wonder why you feel a need to act this way.”
  3. If he knows his counterpart to be a bully, before the discussion even starts, he could say, “I have been hoping all week that you will yell and scream like you usually do. Do you promise you will do it today?”
  4. Finally, if he is really confident and wants to have a little fun, he could say, “You know, you frustrate a lot of people when you yell and swear, but it kind of excites me. I love people of passion! Will you do it again?”

Using these counters takes confidence, but if you use them well, a bully may yell and swear at others but, most likely, will not yell and swear at you.

Have you used or encountered this tactic in your negotiations? If so, how’d it go?

(1) Comment

  1. Interesting points, Peter. I can see how they could bump the needle, which is stuck in the record, playing the same thing over and over. You catch the shark/bully/high conflict personality off guard.

    I think your second suggestion is best because it asks a question, puts the problem in their lap after you’ve shown them you know their game and yet it’s not pouring gas on the fire (conflict), it’s not humiliating the other person, such as choices no. 3 and 4, which will usually only create more heightened negative emotions.

    I’ve used something to the effect of “as long as we talk respectfully and calmly I will listen to all that you say and talk about what’s most important to you. If you yell, talk loudly over me or make false accusations, this conversation is over.”

    The response? Stunned silence. They knew I understood their tactic and they didn’t know what to do. Now, this prevented the typical, predictable outbursts as a control mechanism but it didn’t really help me get them collaborating. This is an ongoing relationship that to this day is a challenge to me.

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