Negotiating Threats

by Dr. Chester Karrass - Date: 2008-10-17 - Word Count: 739 Share This!

Have you ever been threatened during a negotiation? You probably have received more negotiating threats than you realize. Most often negotiating threats are not of a violent nature during a negotiation. They come in the form of an "or else."

"Get this to me by Thursday or else I'll be forced to work with someone else." "I need to get the contract signed today or else you'll be last in line for shipment." "Drop your price by 5% or else I will go with your competitor."

Negotiation, by its very nature, involves a degree of threat. Rewards can be withheld or punishment inflicted by a deadlock. Deadlock constitutes an ever-present threat.

During the course of a negotiation you may be tempted to make a threat, or probably more likely, you'll receive a threat. Look at it this way. Negotiating threats are a form of concession. In effect, the threat says, "If you stop doing what you are doing, I will concede by waiving my power to punish you." A threat puts the burden of proper action on the person being threatened. The other person suddenly become the master of their own fate.

Consider these six factors:

1. Threat is a negotiating tactic, not a strategy. A threat may win you a quick concession but when circumstances change (and they almost always do) you may find yourself at a disadvantage. Threat is essentially a short-run tactic that can destroy an important relationship.

2. Open threats may be useful when both parties know that one has the power to inflict punishment without the risk of retaliation. The trouble is people who are abused tend to retaliate in subtle ways. I've seen sellers who were pushed around get even by reducing quality in ways that could not be measured. What's worse, they took a special pleasure in fooling the buyer.

3. Threats can be made more credible by escalation. When someone is exposed to small threats that are carried out, he or she is likely to believe that larger threats will also be executed. There is little sense in using a threat unless you are reasonably sure the other party believes you. This isn't always as easy as it looks.

4. The size of the threat has to be scaled to the size of the problem. The buyer who threatens to cut off a valued supplier and blackball them for a single delinquent delivery is out of line. Not only does the buyer create unnecessary hostility but they look foolish.

5. Uncontrolled threat is a dangerous weapon. If we were to retaliate for acts of terrorism by using nuclear bombs, the earth might look like a moonscape. We can ill afford the foolish logic of "destroy the world to save it." There is awesome power with a threat that must run its course. When you start an investigation or serve papers in a lawsuit, the wheels begin to grind and cannot easily be stopped.

6. Negotiators who have the means to threaten tend to use it. Studies indicate that the dangers inherent in a threat may be reduced if the threat is implied rather than spoken, mild rather than massive, and rational rather than emotional.

Now, what should you do when you are threatened?

It is easier to stop something from happening than to reverse it once it starts. If you think you are going to be threatened to keep you from doing something you must do, then you might be better off doing it quickly. "Fait accompli" is a countermove against potential threat. Take the action, then talk. You can also protest to the highest levels of management. Top executives generally profess to dislike threat as a negotiating tactic. If threatened, you can try to demonstrate why the threat can't hurt you. Then attempt to get the negotiation back on track. Or, you might try becoming obstinate or irrational. Indicate that you are prepared to suffer whatever the consequences might be. You can also show the threatener that they have more to lose than what they might think. Another way to counter a threat is to be ignorant. Cut off communications so that the threatener is unsure whether their threatening messages are being received. I am against threats. They can create out-of-control situations. Threat leaves a trail of hostility that does not erase easily. It may work, but the price is too high. There are better ways to make your point.

Related Tags: tips, negotiation, strategy, tactics, negotiate, differences

Dr. Chester L. Karrass brings extensive experience, advanced academic credentials in negotiation techniques, and over 35 years experience in seminar delivery no other negotiator in the country can match. After earning an Engineering degree from the University of Colorado and a Masters in Business from Columbia University, Dr. Karrass became a negotiator for the Hughes organization. There he won the first Howard Hughes Doctoral Fellowship Award, and spent three years conducting advanced research and experimentation in negotiation techniques before earning his Doctorate from the University of Southern California.

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