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Get Mad Back

Alan Smith

Get mad back? Not so sure.

Couple of things have passed my desk this week that have prompted this blog.

The first is something that happened to me on one of our Advancing Negotiation Skills courses. One of the participants was asking about how to deal with difficult people. I suspect we have all come across them in our lives be it work or personal. As usual to give myself time to ponder and consider a response, a kind of adjournment, I asked the rest of the group if they had any ideas.

Now a bit more detail.

The kind of difficult person in mind was someone who would not listen, raised his or her voice, questioned parentage and was not reasonable in any way.

One of the group said that their favoured response when dealing with irrational behaviour, was to be even more irrational and shout even louder in return. Rather in the way of Elliot Ness and his famous Untouchables, if they shout loud you shout louder. If they bring a knife you bring a gun style.

The next day I read a piece in the Times newspaper that said something along the same lines. The article was entitled “Why standing up to bully bosses works”.

Apparently a piece of research done by Bennett Toper at Ohio University found that employees who fight back against hostile bosses tend to be better off if they return the hostility.

In the study which was published in the journal Personnel Psychology participants were first asked how often their superiors ridiculed them or told them that their thoughts and feelings were stupid, and what the participants’ reactions to such behaviour by their bosses had been.

Seven months later the participants in the research were asked questions about job satisfaction, commitment to work and overall levels of distress and negative feelings.

Those who had reacted with hostility to hostility appeared to have higher levels of satisfaction in their jobs, less distress and a higher level of commitment to their future in the company. The degree of this mirrored hostility could be all the way from passive aggressive; simply ignoring their boss, or completing tasks half heartedly, to shouting back.

What was more surprising perhaps was that this returned hostility did not appear to harm their future prospects. Indeed it seemed to make them more admired and respected.

Occasionally and unfortunately we have to deal with aggressive and difficult people in our negotiations, and whilst I am not sure I would feel comfortable or find it productive to shout at a supplier or customer, I certainly agree that rewarding bad behaviour is very bad news.

Often this mood can prevail even before you get into the negotiation itself.

See Stephen White talk about why Wrath is one of the 7 deadly sins of negotiation preparation.

Keep your behaviour in check. Be assertive but not angry. As one of my colleagues says be aggressive with your objectives but not your attitude.

Alan Smith

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