As negotiators we need to know how to protect ourselves from aggressive behaviour. Yet we also need to appreciate that in certain negotiating contexts aggression could be a necessary action. Such contexts include dealing with crisis situations.
Crisis negotiations are intense, they create negative emotions and heightened feelings of threat and anxiety. These personal reactions, when coupled with difficulties in processing information and communication problems, can create the climate for an uncontrolled escalation of conflict to the point of vehemence.
Aggression is often unavoidable in crisis negotiations. Negotiators need to think meaningfully not just about how to minimise violence but rather about how to optimise it. This requires the skill of being able to use ‘aggression’ judiciously as a controlled response.
90% of aggression is non–physical, implicit, and covert
To avoid loss of control you need to diagnose the context and understand your likely reactive fight-or-flight response. Then the skill is to know how to interrupt that reactive process and more consciously manage the negotiating ‘atmospherics’ as well as your negotiating style. It is interesting to note how well you control your own responses to smaller, personal (non-crisis) aggression. For example, how do you react to violations of public trust (e.g. corporate or government denial of exposed fault), public civility (e.g. not standing in line), personal risk (e.g. road rage), personal space (e.g. marketing telephone calls at night), or personal taste (e.g. too much perfume or aftershave, second-hand smoke)?
Now consider, when negotiating, how aware are you of any violations you might inadvertently be causing the other party? Are these triggers for their aggressive behaviour?
Tips on Managing Judicious Aggression
Optimising the use of judicious aggression in crisis negotiations requires:
- Appreciating that violence may well occur
- Identifying the type of aggression likely to be used by the other party
- Preparing how to manage that aggression
- Assessing the level of response required to ensure your message is delivered, yet minimising hurt
- Implementing the level of necessary ‘aggression’ required.
- Having a reliable system for assessing the effectiveness of above.
As always, in crisis negotiations and elsewhere, the skill is being able to stay in control of the process.