What’s The Best Way To Respond To A Threat During A Negotiation?

How you react to a threat may determine how the negotiation turns out
How you react to a threat may determine how the negotiation turns out
Image Credit: Jim Rafferty

As negotiators we all understand that threats and ultimatums are a part of the process of negotiating no matter what negotiation styles or negotiating techniques are being used. We’ll make threats sometimes in order to get the attention of the other side and likewise they’ll threaten us. The big question that we need to be able to answer is when you are threatened, should you strike back with a counterthreat?

Dealing With A Threat

When you are threatened you probably should not reply with a counterthreat. The reason for this is because counterthreats raise the emotional temperature of a negotiation and they will get you even further off track. Instead, immediately after hearing a threat, use this as an opportunity to call for a break. Rather than storming off, say something like this: “It’s been a long meeting. Why don’t we get back together when we’re feeling fresh?”

Rescheduling talks for another day will give both sides time to cool down and consider what their options are. Later, when you’re feeling calmer, analyze the threat, perhaps with an adviser who can provide a reality check When you have been threatened during a negotiation, here are three negotiation questions for you to consider.

Are They Likely To Follow Through With The Threat?

Sometimes in the heat of the moment, negotiators sometimes issue threats that they may later regret. If it’s clear that someone has no intention of following through with a threat, and if they seems contrite or embarrassed about it, one thing that you can do to help them save face is to ignore the threat entirely.

Similarly, when the other side threatens you publicly, the threat might not be intended for you at all. Rather, they may be trying to save face with others inside or outside the negotiation. In such cases, be aware that they may actually hope that you won’t take the threat seriously.

Realize That Sometimes A Threat Shouldn’t Be Ignored.

Things get interesting when you think a disgruntled negotiator intends to follow through on their threat. In this situation you need to defuse the situation. Even if a threat appears to be a bluff, the other side may be communicating a very real need for them to be heard and understood. Using your active-listening skills will help you get to the heart of the matter

The first thing that you will want to do is to paraphrase back to the other side what they said to you as accurately as possible. Paraphrasing tells the other side how their message came across and gives them the chance to clarify or amend it. In addition, when you are faced with a negotiator, signaling that you are aware that you were just threatened – sometimes is sufficient to defuse a threat.

Second, probe the other party’s point of view by asking open-ended questions. You might ask the other side questions such as these: “Do you think it would be worthwhile for us to work this out? Why does a threat seem like the best path to you right now?” Because inquiry challenges the other side to reveal the reasoning behind the threat, it could uncover misunderstandings and allow you to work together and steer talks in a more collaborative direction.

Ask Yourself What Did I Do To Cause The Threat?

By using active listening you may be able to recognize that legitimate complaints and concerns underlie the other side’s threat. When you voice these concerns, you show the other side that you care about and understand their perspective, while also making your own position stronger. Of course, when you’ve wronged someone, it’s not enough to promise to address the situation. You’ll have to follow through in a timely manner.

Note that we’re assuming that the threat issuer is a reasonable but frustrated person who wants to cooperate with you. If threats seem to be a standard tactic in a particular negotiator’s playbook, thoroughly investigate your alternatives to dealing with them.


What All Of This Means For You

Threats are a part of almost every principled negotiation. No matter if we are making them or the other side is. When we are being threatened, we need to stop and take measure of the situation. We need to make sure that we understand where the other side is coming from and what they are trying to accomplish.

When the other side threatens you, you need to determine if you think that they really would follow through on their threat. There will be cases in which you need to understand that you cannot ignore the threat that is being made. There is always a reason that the other side has decided to make a threat and so you need to ask yourself what did you do to cause them to make the threat.

There’s nothing that we can do about getting threats while we are negotiating. This is almost a fact of life. What we can do is control how we react to them. If we take the time to understand why the other side is making threats then we can better understand how best to deal with them. The next time that you get threatened during a negotiation, take the time to study the threat and understand the person making the threat. By doing this you’ll come to understand the best way to respond to the threat.


– Dr. Jim Anderson Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Negotiating Skills™


Question For You: What should you do if you ignore a threat and the other side makes the same threat once again?


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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

So it turns out that every negotiation that we are in has two different conversations going on at the same time. The one that we are most familiar with is the one that comes out of our mouth and we can follow along with using our ears. The one that you may not be aware of and which has nothing to do with the negotiation styles and negotiating techniques that are being used has to do with body language. The other side of the table is always sending you clear messages about how they are feeling. Likewise, you are sending them messages also. In order to be an effective negotiator, you need to be able to read the other side’s body language and understand what they are saying.

What’s The Best Way To Respond To A Threat During A Negotiation?